News Clips - March 4 - 11, 2005
TOP OF PAGE
cuts testing on 1 of 3 R’s – ISAT drops writing, plus social studies
/ Chicago Tribune
South suburbs rep dropped from education funding board
/ Daily Southtown
State pension plan hits key campaign donors
/ Daily Herald
No Child Left Behind election issue / Daily Herald
Schools' financial gains questioned / Chicago Tribune
Funds to be raided named / State Journal-Register
Tax reform advocate promotes school funding bill / Quincy Herald-Whig
Mayor dangles home discounts for teachers / Chicago Sun-Times
Police say girl brought gun, ammo to Aurora
school, showed others
/ Chicago Sun-Times
Focus Worries Students / Washington
'No child' law/Earth to feds: Fix the flaws / Minneapolis Star Tribune
South Beach' a hot lunch? / Chicago Tribune
Police: Teacher let kids make drug equipment / Peoria Journal Star
the new teachers measure up? / Christian Science Monitor
Kansas to hold
six days of hearings over evolution / USA Today
Initiative Aimed At Providing Stability for Youths / Washington
to rid mercury from labs / USA Today
Building a better
SAT? Yale psychologist thinks he's done it / San Diego Union-Tribune
White House commitment on No Child / Provo Daily Herald
State ban on paddling unruly students not yet approved / Pittsburgh Post Gazette
Bill would help public school students go to private
schools / St. Louis
admits losing school's $844,478 on gambling / Kansas City
their news quickly with giant phone networks / Sacramento
cash crunch drive out driver's ed / Detroit News
chief risks funds in feud with feds / Houston Chronicle
Detroit can't lure students / Detroit Free Press
exercise, nutrition bill / Boston Globe
Md. teen protests
foreign language Pledge / Boston Globe
FROM "EDUCATION WEEK"
Push to Improve High Schools
‘First Things First’ Shows Promising Results
Texas Stands Behind Own Testing Rule
Minn. Students’ Anti-War Effort Fuels Web Rumors
Calif. School Workers Compete to Lose Weight
Education Department Tracks Growth in Distance Learning
Utah Legislators Delay Action on NCLB Bill
The Virtual Stage
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cuts testing on 1 of 3 R’s – ISAT drops writing, plus social studies
By Diane Rado, March 11, 2005
For the first time in more than a decade, Illinois students no longer
have to take substantive writing exams or tests measuring their knowledge
of fundamental principles of U.S. government and history--the result
of some of the most severe state testing cutbacks in the nation.
The cuts are playing out this week, as hundreds of thousands of grade
school children take the Illinois Standards Achievement Test used to
judge school progress.
The state's 3rd, 5th and 8th graders are taking only reading and math
tests, and 4th and 7th graders are taking only science tests. Next month,
high school juniors will take pared-down exams in reading, writing and
math, the only tests required under the No Child Left Behind federal
Wiped out is a writing test that dates to 1990 and was being given to
3rd, 5th, 8th and 11th graders, and a social studies exam for 4th, 7th
and 11th graders, first instituted in 1993. Test questions in fine arts,
physical development and health were stricken from ISAT tests this year
Lawmakers approved the cuts in July because of state budget constraints.
Eliminating the test was estimated to save some $6 million in administration
Criticism of testing has heightened since No Child Left Behind took
effect in 2002. The law put extraordinary pressure on schools to ensure
that children of all backgrounds perform academically and has led to
what critics say is too much test preparation and even cheating in some
While some states have cut back on which grades are tested or made other
changes, testing experts and education groups say Illinois is the only
state to eliminate its writing exam. In Colorado, legislation to eliminate
the writing exam was vetoed in 2003. A year later, Illinois got rid
of its writing exam.
"We're stunned. What can I say?" said Richard Sterling, executive
director of the National Writing Project, a nationwide effort to improve
youngsters' writing skills. "It's a disaster, because you can use
writing to learn, to explore ideas and information. It helps you to
Illinois has cut its writing test at the same time that college-entrance
tests are emphasizing writing, with SAT adding a new essay section to
its test this year and competitor ACT including an optional writing
"I think we ought to be embarrassed by what we did," said
state Sen. Miguel del Valle (D-Chicago), who is leading the charge to
restore the writing test by 2006-07.
His bill to reinstate the exam was approved by the Senate Education
Committee this week and is headed to the Senate floor for consideration.
A House bill to restore all of the eliminated tests was voted down in
a House committee last week, with opposition from an alliance of the
state's major school organizations, including the Illinois Association
of School Boards.
Ben Schwarm, the coordinator of lobbying efforts for the alliance, said
that with the state facing severe deficits and education funding expected
to be tight, school districts would rather have money for overall operating
expenses, such as teacher salaries, than test administration.
"We certainly think it's better to have the funding to teach children
rather than test children," he said.
In fact, some educators criticized the Illinois test as encouraging
formulaic writing, heavy on repetition and short on creativity.
Doug Hesse, an English professor at Illinois State University who chairs
a national organization for college-level writing teachers, said the
state should rethink how it assesses writing, possibly using student
portfolios with several writing samples. He said he would oppose reinstating
the same writing test that has been used in the past.
Former State School Supt. Glenn "Max" McGee, now a local superintendent
in Wilmette, agreed, saying he has recommended to Gov. Rod Blagojevich
that the state borrow successful strategies used in local districts
for any new statewide writing assessment. "We know we can do a
better job of assessing students in writing," McGee, of District
His district now has its own writing exam, which involves evaluating
rough drafts as well as final drafts of student writing.
East Maine School District 63 in Des Plaines gives a writing assessment
in September, and another in April, to judge student progress. "I
feel the pre- and post-assessments are much more valuable than just
a one-time snapshot," said Katherine Ruh, executive director of
curriculum and instruction.
Her district has yet to devise its own assessment for social studies
but it has not reduced its emphasis on the subject, she said. The district
just spent more than $100,000 on social studies teaching materials.
But national social studies organizations are alarmed at what they see
as a retreat from such critical subjects as U.S. history, geography
and economics, which they blame in part on the narrow testing focus
of No Child Left Behind.
In Missouri, the legislature has provided funding only for communications
arts and math testing. Since 2003, districts that want to test in science
and social studies have to do so at their own cost, said Sharon Schattgen,
coordinator of curriculum and assessment for the state education department.
The problem is that, "What gets measured is treasured," said
Roger LaRaus, a retired Evanston school administrator who now teaches
social studies methods at the college level and is active in national
social studies organizations.
That means teachers will be less willing to spend time on subjects for
which there is no high-stakes testing attached.
"People won't say they're not teaching social studies," he
said. "But the truth is, they're not teaching it."
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South suburbs rep dropped from education
By Kati Phillips, Staff writer Daily Southtown 3/11/05
The south suburbs no longer have a representative on the state board
that decides how much it costs to educate a child.
Bert Docter, the former president of the Southland Chamber of Commerce,
has been dropped from the Education Funding Advisory Board.
Docter said Gov. Rod Blagojevich denied his request to remain on the
board for another four-year term because Docter backs an income tax
increase the governor said he will veto.
One incumbent and four new members were appointed this week, and an
updated school finance report is expected later this month.
The board will not recommend a way to raise revenues, just figure the
cost of a quality education, said Illinois State Board of Education
spokeswoman Becky Watts.
"The governor wanted to go in another direction," said Docter,
CEO of Docter Enterprises in South Holland.
The fresh appointments come at a crucial time for Blagojevich, whose
budget proposal as been assailed by typical Democratic allies, including
Mayor Richard Daley and Senate President Emil Jones, as shortchanging
Created by a 1997 law, the advisory board recommended in 2002 that the
state significantly increase the income tax in conjunction with a reduction
in property taxes to mend what many say is a broken system of paying
for elementary and secondary schools.
The law requires a report from the board Jan. 1 of each odd-numbered
year, but many of the original board members resigned or their terms
expired, and Blagojevich did not replace them.
Education reform advocates pleaded with the administration to name a
new board, to no avail. Finally, the Mexican American Legal Defense
and Education Fund in January wrote Blagojevich, threatening to sue
unless he followed the law, named a board and delivered a report by
Blagojevich spokeswoman Rebecca Rausch has said the administration did
not move more quickly on forming a new board because of the multibillion-dollar
budget deficits the governor faced in his first three years in office.
"It was not a top priority of this administration because we're
still fighting to increase education funding, and we hadn't achieved
the last EFAB recommendation," Rausch said.
That recommendation was to raise the "foundation level" —the
minimum amount guaranteed for each of the state's 2 million students
— by $1,000. Blagojevich promised to do that during his first term in
office. He boosted the level by $250 in his first year but only $154
In the budget he proposed recently, Blagojevich offered only $140 million
in new money for kindergarten-through-12th-grade schools. Even if all
of that went to the foundation level, ignoring other needs such as early
childhood education, special education and transportation, the foundation
level would rise by just $87.50.
Illinois school districts currently get the bulk of their funding from
real estate taxes based on property values that vary widely throughout
the state, creating canyons of disparity in spending between schools
in wealthy areas and those in less-affluent locales.
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State pension plan hits key campaign donors
John Patterson, Daily Herald
SPRINGFIELD - A call for massive reductions in pension benefits probably
wasn't what state employee and teachers unions had in mind when they
collectively gave Rod Blagojevich nearly $2.4 million for his 2002 campaign.
That may partly explain why these unions so vehemently oppose the governor's
plan, one that generally would make future employees work longer and
receive less in retirement than current state workers and teachers.
Blagojevich is relying on the plan and his predictions of $800 million
in savings this year to balance the budget. But in pitching the idea,
he's picked a fight with arguably the most powerful groups in state
"I think they're influential for two reasons: Because they give
extraordinary amounts of cash to the candidates they back, but they're
equally influential because they have numbers, they have foot soldiers,
they have voters," said Cindi Canary, director of the Illinois
Campaign for Political Reform, a group that tracks campaign contributions.
The Illinois Education Association, the state's largest teachers union
with 120,000 members, gave more than $3.1 million to candidates in 2002,
making it the single largest donor in the state during that election.
Ranking second was the Illinois Federation of Teachers with more than
$1.9 million and 90,000 members. Two state employee unions were among
the top six donors.
These groups were among the top donors to Blagojevich's 2002 campaign,
too, campaign records show. Combined, they have more than 250,000 members
covered by state pensions, members who often volunteer for political
campaigns and can be counted on to vote.
Blagojevich offers no apologies.
"Change sometimes means having to tell your friends bad news,"
said Pete Giangreco, a Blagojevich spokesman. "And for too long,
we've had governors who would only take care of their friends and leave
everybody else in Illinois to their own devices."
Ever since the governor unveiled his pension ideas last month, political
fur rather than union dollars has been flying.
"We think the plan is a terrible idea," said Anders Lindall,
spokesman for the American Federation of State, County and Municipal
Employees 31 and its 37,000 state employees. "It's unconscionable
to attempt to balance the budget by digging into the pockets of future
For teachers, the state would no longer fully fund in retirement the
double-digit salary increases that often occur in their final years.
Instead, the state would pay only for 3 percent raises those final years,
shifting anything in excess back onto local schools. Pension system
officials say it would cost school districts $149 million the first
For state workers and teachers alike, the annual 3 percent pension increases
in retirement would end, too. Instead, the state would apply the actual
rate of inflation or 3 percent, whichever is less. And that annual increase
would apply only to the pension's first $12,000 or $24,000, depending
on whether the retiree were entitled to Social Security. Teachers are
not eligible for Social Security but most state employees are.
Despite the union criticism, some of Blagojevich's needed allies are
standing with him.
"It's not a Democrat-union issue. It's an issue related to the
cost of government," said Senate President Emil Jones Jr., a Chicago
But the union line might be taking its toll elsewhere.
Blagojevich's point man for pension reform - state Rep. Bob Molaro,
a Chicago Democrat - is already backing off some of the provisions in
meetings and offering to compromise.
Meanwhile, Republicans, whose ranks are no stranger to union campaign
donations, say the governor's savings won't happen and the entire plan
"I don't even think we'll need the weight of the teachers unions,"
said Senate Republican leader Frank Watson of downstate Greenville.
The Illinois Education Association is one of Watson's top contributors,
and nearly 40 percent of its contributions over the past 10 years have
gone to Republicans, according to a database maintained by the Illinois
Campaign for Political Reform.
As for whether the unions will support Blagojevich for a 2006 re-election
bid anyway, the early answer from at least one of the influential groups
"There's been no irreparable damage done to the relationship,"
said Charles McBarron, Illinois Education Association director of communications,
"at this point."
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No Child Left Behind election issue
Avian Carrasquillo, Daily Herald
The No Child Left Behind Act is a major concern for candidates in the
April 5 election for Wheeling Township Elementary District 21 school
The federal legislation requires standardized testing in reading and
math for all third- and eighth-graders and at least once in high school.
It also mandates that by 2014, all students in schools that receive
federal funds must meet or exceed state standards in those areas.
According to the law, if a school fails to reach its state's goal two
years in a row, that school must offer students the option to transfer
to a better-performing school in the district. The district must also
provide students with private tutoring services.
Currently, Frost, Field and Whitman elementary schools in District 21
did not make adequate yearly progress two years in a row and had to
offer students in those schools the chance to transfer to a passing
The five candidates for District 21 school board - Randi Asquini, Richard
Rosen and incumbents Arlen Gould, Bill Harrison and Phil Pritzker -
all agree the legislation is a primary subject the district will be
dealing with over the next four years.
Pritzker, seeking his fourth term as a school board member, said that
while the act is good in theory, its setup is designed to fail.
"The law is punitive in its implementation. If there are legitimate
reasons why groups of students aren't performing, be it from low-income
families, English as a second language or a combination of those, by
taking resources away from the schools and children, failure is a self-fulfilling
prophecy," Pritzker said.
Asquini, a parent of three children in the district, is running for
a school board seat for the first time.
"NCLB, (No Child Left Behind) it drives me nuts like everyone else,
because schools are labeled failing when they are not. It isn't appropriate,
but it has a correct philosophy: no child left behind," she said.
"We in District 21 have fine teachers; if anyone can meet NCLB
requirements, we can," Asquini said.
Asquini proposes lobbying local businesses for additional funding to
help the district pay for programs to meet those requirements.
Harrison, now seeking his second term on the board, has been so frustrated
by the law that he has been sending letters to the U.S. Department of
Education pointing out the act's flaws.
Harrison said one of his greatest disputes with the Education Department
is the lack of federal funding to support the law.
"The government has this one-size-fits-all plan, but that plan
doesn't work. We could be better, but we don't need a federal law siphoning
out money that could go to the children," Harrison said.
Gould is seeking his third term on the school board. Regarding the legislation,
he said, "The program and its Title I funds are set in such a way
that the only benefit to succeeding is a pat on the back, but if you
fail, you become a district in disgrace.
"Every child deserves to learn and can learn, just at different
measures," Gould said.
Rosen, who has a son in the district, is seeking a school board seat
for the first time.
"NCLB is probably one of the most difficult things our district
has ever faced, it's doubly difficult because our district is so diverse,"
"I think this problem is going to be solved by legislators themselves.
I think there's been enough negative feedback about the law," Rosen
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Schools' financial gains questioned
Diane Rado, Chicago Tribune, 3/8/05
State Sen. Miguel del Valle (D-Chicago) criticized state education officials
Monday for portraying school districts as making remarkable progress
in improving their finances.
"Don't you think that was a bit misleading?" he asked Illinois
State Board of Education finance administrators Monday at the first
meeting of a new Senate Select Committee on Education Funding Reform
at Thornton High School in Harvey. Del Valle is a co-chairman of the
The board released a preliminary report last month of districts that
were deficit spending in 2004 compared with 2003. The report showed
the number of deficit districts had declined significantly, progress
praised by Gov. Rod Blagojevich.
But the Tribune later reported that some of those districts remained
deeply troubled, borrowing heavily to meet payroll and to shore up their
Del Valle also asked why the state board, now controlled by the governor's
appointees, released the preliminary figures without a more thorough
analysis. The release came just a few days before Blagojevich's budget
address to lawmakers.
Education board members said the media had been asking for the figures.
The exchange illustrates how contentious the battle over school finance
reform is expected to be over the next several months, as key senators
under the leadership of Senate President Emil Jones press to reform
the school finance system.
The main proposals involve raising the state income tax and lowering
property taxes long relied upon to pay for schools. The system creates
major inequities between wealthy and poor districts and often shortchanges
disadvantaged students, education officials say.
But Blagojevich is steadfastly opposed to raising the income or sales
taxes, and critics have accused him of downplaying financial problems
of schools and dragging his feet on addressing major education issues.
After the threat of a lawsuit by the Mexican American Legal Defense
and Educational Fund, Blagojevich on Monday appointed new members to
the Education Funding Advisory Board that recommends per-student funding
levels for schoolchildren. The group is scheduled to meet Wednesday.
A long line of speakers emphasized the need for reform on Monday, saying
school districts have laid off teachers, increased class sizes, cut
extracurricular programs and taken other drastic measures because they
don't have enough money to operate. Health care and special education
costs, fuel and other expenses have risen at a faster pace than revenues,
they said, even with significant increases in education funding pushed
through by the Blagojevich administration.
However, some speakers were critical of school districts that give out
20 percent raises to retiring teachers and borrow heavily to cover operating
expenses, burdening taxpayers.
The debate over the way schools are funded has gone on for so long that
several speakers expressed impatience.
"I come here as a tired person," said Bert Docter, a former
member of the Education Funding Advisory Board. "It seems like
it's always the same old, same old. It's not about quality education.
It's all about politics."
The last time Illinois seriously considered education finance reform
was in 1997, when then-Gov. Jim Edgar tried unsuccessfully to cut property
taxes and raise income taxes to fund schools.
Del Valle said Monday that it would take a bipartisan effort by lawmakers,
and support from local officials, such as city mayors, to make reform
happen. But with Blagojevich against tax increases, del Valle made no
"This is a real, honest, bipartisan attempt to come up with some
solutions," he said. "We won't guarantee that over the next
few months, we'll be able to do that."
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Funds to be raided named
In governor's plan to hike school spending
Doug Finke and Adriana Colindres, State Journal-Register, 3/9/05
To increase state spending on education next year, Gov. Rod Blagojevich
plans to raid funds set aside to build parks, prevent fires, discipline
doctors, buy computers for schools and hundreds of other purposes.
However, almost immediately after a list of Blagojevich's proposed fund
"sweeps" was made public Tuesday, lawmakers and interest groups
were complaining that his plan will take vital dollars away from programs
that need the money.
In his budget speech nearly a month ago, Blagojevich said he wanted
to use money from dedicated state funds to give education a $140 million
spending increase in the fiscal year that begins July 1. He said the
money to be taken from the funds would be dollars not needed to keep
The governor's budget office Tuesday finally released a list of the
funds the administration wants to sweep of surplus cash. About 350 funds
are on the list, including the Open Space Lands Acquisition and Development
Fund. A portion of the real estate transfer tax is deposited into the
fund, and the proceeds are used to finance park projects.
Just a year ago, lawmakers rejected Blagojevich's request to divert
money from the OSLAD fund for one year to help balance the budget.
Dave Kelm, coalition coordinator for Partners for Parks and Wildlife,
said OSLAD and other park-development funds do not have surpluses. In
many cases, he said, what appears to be a surplus is simply money that
hasn't been spent because a particular project takes several years to
"It's a bit disingenuous to say there are surpluses," Kelm
said. "Every year there are far more requisitions for funds than
there is money."
Kelm said the same conservation interests that fought Blagojevich's
plan last year will do so again this year.
"Clearly, we are not going to be alone this time," Kelm said.
"Last year, we were one of the few groups that faced a sweep. This
year, the governor has indicated (hundreds) of special funds will be
swept. This just broadens the constituent base."
Becky Carroll, spokeswoman for Blagojevich's budget office, said the
governor's plan will not harm programs financed by the special funds.
"These are surplus dollars that have gone unused year after year
after year that can be going to a useful purpose," Carroll said.
"There is probably no more useful purpose than our classrooms."
As of last June 30, the funds that will be swept had more than $1.1
billion in them, Carroll said. The governor wants to take $420 million
and set it aside for schools. Each year, $140 million of that amount
will be spent on education. Using only part of the money each year,
Carroll said, will enable the state to maintain a pool of money if one
of the special funds needs an influx of cash.
Some state funds would not be swept, even if they have excess cash in
them. Pension funds would be left untouched, as would the state road
fund. Funds that get federal money would also be left alone because
federal money cannot be diverted by states for other uses.
Several state lawmakers are already lining up against the plan.
Rep. Renee Kosel, R-New Lenox, said a Chicago TV station recently reported
that state officials had complained there was not enough money available
to investigate incompetent doctors. However, the governor plans to sweep
funds dedicated to investigating doctors, podiatrists, pharmacists and
"We are taking dollars away from people we are supposed to investigate,"
"To be taking money from health-care provider disciplinary funds
is amazing to me," said Rep. Beth Coulson, R-Glenview. "We
should be beefing that up, not decreasing it."
Most of the funds collect money from licensing and other fees and are
replenished constantly. However, Rep. Connie Howard, D-Chicago, noted
that Blagojevich wants to take money out of a fund designed to help
the poor obtain access to computers and the Internet. The fund got all
of its money at one time from a provision in revised telecommunications
laws passed by the General Assembly. Howard also said the administration
overestimated how much money remains in the account.
Some money would come out of a fund to promote computer literacy administered
by Secretary of State Jesse White's office. Money in the fund came from
a grant from Microsoft owner Bill Gates.
"Quite frankly, I don't think Mr. Gates intended it to balance
the state budget," said White spokesman Dave Druker.
Another fund the governor would tap is set up to help victims of domestic
"So what this means is we're going to fund education by letting
battered women be battered or killed?" asked Cheryl Howard, executive
director of the Illinois Coalition Against Domestic Violence. "We're
not against funding education, but this is not the way to do it."
Not all lawmakers oppose the sweeps. Sen. Debbie Halvorson, D-Crete,
said the plan "has merit."
"These are funds that have a huge surplus in them," said Halvorson,
a top lieutenant to Senate President Emil Jones, D-Chicago. "Very
seldom do you have six months of pay in your checking account."
Halvorson said lawmakers need to discuss the sweeps idea now.
"If it doesn't work, it's more important to discuss it now than
in May and June," Halvorson said.
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Tax reform advocate promotes school funding bill
Edward Husar, Quincy Herald-Whig
Ralph Martire says an education funding bill he is promoting would not
adversely impact businesses as some detractors have suggested.
If anything, he said, "businesses will pay less in taxes"
if House Bill 750 becomes law.
Martire defended the proposed bill during a two-hour presentation Monday
evening in the John Wood Community College auditorium.
Martire is the moving force behind the development of HB 750, which
calls for increasing funding for public schools while providing property
tax relief for homeowners and businesses.
The bill has come under attack by some business leaders. They contend
it is bad for business because it not only would increase the state
income tax to 5 percent from the current 3 percent — primarily impacting
the state's wealthiest residents — but also because it would raise the
corporate tax, close certain business loopholes and impose a new sales
tax on many consumer services.
Martire insists businesses would see a "net tax break" under
"Yes, the corporate income tax rate goes up. Yes, we take away
a couple of breaks that favor one business over another but don't seem
to have any economic justification," he said.
"But because businesses share in the property tax relief, their
net tax burden goes down significantly."
Martire is the executive director of the Center for Tax and Budget Accountability
in Chicago, a bipartisan "think tank" striving to make the
Illinois tax system fundamentally fair and economically sound. He says
HB 750 would generate about $1.8 billion in extra state aid for schools
while providing about $2.4 billion in property tax relief.
What that would mean for the five school districts in Adams County would
be $9.6 million more state aid and $6.5 million in tax relief, according
to Martire's Web site.
However, former state Rep. Jeff Mays — now president of the Illinois
Business Roundtable — has been circulating figures contending Adams
County would end up with a net loss of $10.9 million because county
residents would pay $17.7 million more in income taxes and $9.3 million
more in corporate taxes.
Martire disputed Mays' assertions in response to a question from Quincy
businessman Mike Nobis.
"I looked at those figures that Jeff Mays provided, and they are
inaccurate," Martire said. "Jeff Mays has provided inaccurate
information before, and I don't like to say that stuff publicly. But
when he's given his numbers to us, we have corrected them repeatedly."
Martire said Mays "never factors in the tax relief and refundable
credit" that make the bill much more palatable for Illinois residents
— particularly low- and middle-income wage earners who would end up
paying no more in income taxes because they'd qualify for a refundable
"And he (Mays) changes the amount of tax relief that goes to businesses,"
Martire added. "He gives less than House Bill 750 gives because
he doesn't believe the relief will be there. So I'm just telling you
those numbers are inaccurate."
Nobis, who also has been openly critical of HB 750, said he intends
to find out if the projections presented by Martire or Mays are correct.
"I want to make sure that we don't end up losing overall,"
State Sen. John Sullivan, D-Rushville, who was in attendance , said
he plans to meet with Martire and Mays to inquire why their financial
projections for Adams County don't match up.
"I'm going to find out," he said. "I have a funny feeling
they're never going to agree on that. But we'll at least look at the
numbers and see how each of them came up with them."
Sullivan may have a say in the fate of HB 750 because a similar measure
has also been introduced in the Senate along with an amended version
proposed by State Sen. Rick Winkel, R-Champaign, who also attended Monday's
Winkel's proposal would set the individual income tax rate at 4.75 percent
(instead of the 5 percent Martire proposes) and the corporate rate at
7.6 percent (instead of 8 percent). In addition, Winkel would do away
with some of the other tax increases Martire has proposed, including
the sales tax on services.
Winkel said HB 750 will never pass the General Assembly if the sales
tax on services remains in the proposal.
"That sinks that boat, in my opinion," he said. "That
is a very, very controversial sort of provision that would make it very
difficult for colleagues to commit to a vote."
Sullivan said he, too, has "a big concern" about the sales
tax proposal in Martire's bill because Illinois is a border state, and
any additional sales tax could put Sullivan's 47th Senate District at
a competitive disadvantage because of its proximity to Missouri and
Winkel said a supermajority of the House and Senate will likely be needed
to pass the bill because Gov. Rod Blagojevich has promised to veto any
legislation containing an income tax increase.
"I believe that is one promise he would keep," Winkel said.
Sullivan said the bill is bound to face a tough road unless it can somehow
generate bipartisan support in both the House and Senate. It remains
to be seen if that will materialize.
Sullivan said he believes some sort of education funding reform is needed
"I think we need to reduce our reliance on property taxes. And
so we have to look at other revenue sources," he said. "We
need to look at what's best for the kids."
Louise Crede, president of the League of Women Voters of Adams County,
which co-sponsored Monday's event with several other organizations,
said the League of Women Voters of Illinois is backing HB 750.
Diane Robertson, superintendent of the Mendon School District, which
has been plagued by financial troubles in recent years, also believes
the time has come to revamp the way Illinois schools are financed.
"The current structure for funding Illinois public education is
outdated, unreliable and inequitable," she said. "It's time
to fix it."
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Mayor dangles home discounts for teachers
Fran Spielman, Chicago Sun-Times, 3/9/05
Chicago public school teachers who agree to purchase homes in the mixed-income
developments that replace demolished CHA high-rises would be eligible
for $7,500 grants -- and $3,000 if they buy homes elsewhere in the city
-- under a mayoral plan unveiled Tuesday.
Five months after authorizing a strict new residency policy for school
employees hired since 1996, Daley offered teachers a carrot along with
the stick through a program patterned after a 10-year-old housing incentive
for police officers.
Teachers on the job for at least one year who have not owned a home
in the city during the prior three years will be eligible for the $7,500
grants for the CHA developments. Teachers buying in other Chicago neighborhoods
would get $3,000 grants.
But they must agree to keep teaching in the Chicago Public Schools for
five more years or return a portion of the grant if they leave earlier.
Moving within the city would not trigger loss of the grant.
"We want our teachers to be more than just employees. We want them
to have a personal stake in the progress. That's not likely to happen
when you live in a suburb among people who have little interest in the
Chicago Public Schools," Daley told a news conference at West Haven
Park, a CHA replacement development at 140 N. Wood.
"When teachers live in the city, they participate in civic life
by joining block clubs, community organizations. It's easier for them
to come in early or stay late -- to tutor children, coach teams or advise
student organizations. They're also more likely to see their students
-- and have a positive effect on their lives -- on weekends and during
the summer outside of school. And quite frankly, we want our teachers
to spend their money and pay their taxes in the city, so their salaries
are recycled throughout the community."
From renter to homeowner
Patricia Roby, an English teacher at Senn High School, said she got
a developer discount on the home she bought at Jazz Boulevard, thanks
to a Teacher Housing Resource Center opened three years ago to give
Chicago a leg up in the battle for qualified teachers. She now plans
to apply for the $7,500 grant.
Without housing assistance, Roby said, "I would probably still
be renting. It's hard to come up with that much money. My son is a sophomore
in college. I've only been teaching eight years. This is a career-switch
for me. I had to start all over again."
Last fall, the Board of Education voted to end its lax, "don't
ask, don't tell" policy of residency enforcement in favor of a
crackdown that requires principals and supervisors to verify that new
employees live in the city. Those who don't have two months to move
back in or lose their jobs.
Roby has no problem with that policy after growing up in Stateway Gardens
and getting homework help from the teachers who lived in her building.
"Miss Walters, she was my sister's second-grade teacher. If we
had [a problem], we just knew that she was there for support. It made
a big difference to me," she said.
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Police say girl brought gun, ammo to Aurora school,
Dan Rozek, Chicago Sun-Times, 3/10/05
A 12-year-old Aurora girl carried an unloaded .32-caliber handgun and
a clip of ammunition in her purse to her middle school Wednesday morning,
then showed them off to several students, authorities said.
The sixth-grader was arrested later in the day after a student at Still
Middle School on Aurora's east side told a teacher about the gun, which
was found in the girl's purse inside her locker, Aurora police and DuPage
County authorities said.
The girl was charged as a juvenile with three felony weapons offenses
and was being held overnight in the DuPage County Youth Home. She is
expected to appear in juvenile court today.
The girl, who was not identified because of her age, told authorities
she found the handgun and ammunition clip -- which contained several
live rounds -- stuffed in a plastic bag in bushes near her bus stop.
She told officials she picked up the bag and put it in her purse without
looking inside, a law enforcement source said.
Informer 'did the right thing'
Investigators are treating her claim skeptically but aren't sure how
the girl obtained the weapon, officials said.
A school official, though, said it didn't appear the girl feared for
her safety or had been threatened at school.
"There was no protection involved in this,'' Principal Jay Strang
DuPage County State's Attorney Joseph Birkett and Aurora Police Chief
William Lawler praised the student who alerted school officials about
the gun. About 1,100 students attend the school.
"The student who reported this to school officials did the right
thing and, because of that, the right things happened,'' Lawler said
in a written statement.
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SAT's English Focus Worries Students
Nonnative Speakers Fear Disadvantage
By Daniel de Vise, Washington Post Staff Writer, Friday, March
11, 2005; Page B04
Lily Cao took the old SAT in January and scored 1520 out of 1600,
a worthy complement to her nearly 4.0 grade-point average at Walt Whitman
High School in Bethesda.
She will take the new SAT tomorrow. She expects to tank.
Lily, 16, and many other foreign-born students around Washington fear
trouble with the revised college-entrance exam, which requires them
to write an essay in their adoptive tongue in 25 minutes.
The first substantial reworking of the SAT since 1994 has added a section
to the test, which will now produce separate scores in verbal ability,
math and writing. The language component is longer and more open-ended
than before, calling for students to compose paragraphs longhand, to
find errors in grammar and punctuation, and to improve a series of sentences
In high schools with large populations of nonnative English speakers,
students and teachers are approaching the debut of the test with apprehension.
"I'm expecting my grade to go down at least 200 points," said
Lily, of Cabin John, a native of China who learned English at 7. "The
problem is, the colleges don't want to see your SAT scores go down the
second time. I know my scores are going to go down on this one."
The College Board, publisher of the SAT, revised the exam partly to
give colleges a better sense of how applicants express themselves and
a window into how they think, said Amy Schmidt, executive director of
higher education research at the New York company.
But some say the expanded test will amplify a scoring disparity that
has long vexed many foreign-born students who take the SAT. A straight-A
student who has not yet mastered English might have expected a 100-point
gap between verbal and math scores on the old SAT. Lily, for example,
scored a perfect 800 in math and 720 in verbal on the old test. The
new test will have a third score on the same 200-to-800 scale, a potential
disadvantage for students weak in English.
The College Board is urging colleges not to weigh the new section too
heavily in their admission decisions in the first year, Schmidt said.
Some colleges are telling applicants they will no longer accept scores
on the old SAT, however, raising the stakes for this year's juniors.
The essay portion of the new test will be graded holistically, Schmidt
said, meaning that students who commit minor errors in spelling, grammar
and punctuation aren't to be penalized. But an essay with serious errors
throughout inevitably will be marked down, she said, because the mistakes
will erode the student's message.
"If it interferes with the meaning and it interferes with your
ability to communicate your ideas effectively in a written context,
then it's going to interfere with your score," she said.
Research by the College Board suggests that the gap in scores between
native and nonnative English speakers actually will be somewhat smaller
on the new writing section than on the old verbal section. The verbal
section has been renamed critical reading and is designed to assess
reading comprehension and sentence completion.
"Some do fine," said Joe Hock, college career coordinator
at Albert Einstein High School in Kensington, where 15 percent of students
study English for Speakers of Other Languages. "But some, their
math scores are much higher. It's always an issue, depending on how
long you've been in the school system learning English."
Schools with large immigrant populations have worked to prepare all
of their students for the new test. Long Reach High School in Columbia,
where 7 percent of students have limited English proficiency, offers
four sections of SAT preparation during school, after school and at
night, guidance director Diane Pelash said.
Seneca Valley High in Germantown, where 11 percent of students are nonnative
English speakers, has teachers using sample SAT essay prompts to help
students learn the format.
"The teachers are concerned about it, and the students are talking
about it," said Khadija Barkley, student support specialist for
"Is it going to be more difficult? Of course it is."
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'No child' law/Earth to feds: Fix the flaws
Minneapolis Star Tribune Editorial, 3/7/05
The revolt against provisions of President Bush's "No Child Left
Behind" K-12 law is picking up momentum. Now it is time for the
administration to drop the defensiveness about its signature education
plan and start making adjustments that will move education forward.
No longer can the White House dismiss the law's critics as education-establishment
"whiners" bent on preserving the status quo, or resistant,
contrarian Democrats. Now the chorus of complaints is coming from fellow
Republicans, parents, governors and, most recently, a bipartisan group
of state lawmakers that is rightly demanding change.
Last month, the National Conference of State Legislatures, which represents
all 50 states, issued a scathing assessment. Sen. Steve Saland, a New
York Republican who cochaired the task force that produced the report,
described the NCLB law as a "weed" that's stifling state educational
innovations. The review says the federal department must give states
more flexibility to meet NCLB goals and lists 43 specific recommendations.
• Eliminate barriers that interfere with programs that worked before
NCLB and encourage innovative, successful strategies. The study said
that the federal government funds less than 8 percent of the nation's
K-12 programs, but No Child rules affect nearly all classroom activity.
Therefore, all federal mandates should be fully funded.
• Remove the one-size-fits-all student achievement measures and call
for more sophisticated assessments, including tests that track the individual
progress of students. The state lawmakers said struggling schools need
more opportunity to address problems.
• Recognize that some schools face special challenges, including students
learning English and students with disabilities.
• Parts of the report even question the constitutionality of the law,
citing contradictions with previous special-education rules and state
jurisdiction over student learning. Consistent with that concern, nearly
a dozen state legislatures have resolutions pending to resist the federal
law's preemptions of what the states say is their authority to govern
and assess their schools.
Minnesota Sen. Steve Kelley, DFL-Hopkins, chairs the Senate Education
Committee and cochaired the national lawmakers' task force. The national
group stopped short of saying states should opt out of NCLB, noting
that local schools could lose millions in federal funds for noncompliance.
However, here in Minnesota Kelley believes rejecting the law is worth
the risk. He has proposed legislation that calls for federal changes
by mid-2006 -- or else Minnesota would refuse to comply and agree to
pay schools to make up for federal losses. Kelley believes NCLB's requirements
are too rigid, its sanctions are too harsh and that its goal of 100
percent proficiency is "statistically unachievable."
Still, any makeover must preserve important goals of the federal law.
States must continue to disaggregate data to monitor how all student
populations are performing. They should continue to improve rigor and
set high standards to make U.S. students more competitive with their
global peers. And states should continue work on narrowing the achievement
gap between white students and some students of color.
Bush's new education secretary, Margaret Spelling, has shown some limited
willingness to work with states on waivers and other changes. But as
the legislators' study points out, much bigger fixes are in order. The
administration must make those adjustments and work with states in a
more cooperative, less heavy-handed way. Either that, or face the possibility
that many states will ignore the federal rules altogether.
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South Beach' a hot lunch?
Florida schools test diet guru's principles
Mike Schneider, Associated Press
KISSIMMEE, Fla. -- Nine-year-old Kelly Ferrer no longer gets the waffles,
pancakes and sugar cereals that she loved eating for breakfast last
year in her school cafeteria.
This year she is served whole-wheat bread, low-fat cheese and fruit.
Does she like it? No.
"I want to go back to the old menu," said the 4th grader at
Mill Creek Elementary School. "We had better food last year."
Kelly's is one of six schools in this Orlando suburb taking part in
a study by a research center founded by Dr. Arthur Agatston, the author
of "The South Beach Diet."
The goal is to figure out whether school cafeterias are capable of serving
more nutritious food, whether children will eat it and whether their
health will improve.
The program underscores growing national concerns about childhood obesity.
Government data suggest about 15 percent of U.S. youngsters are severely
overweight or obese, a problem that may lead to diabetes, high blood
pressure and heart disease.
"We're not putting the children on the South Beach Diet,"
said Danielle Hollar, deputy director of research at the Agatston Research
Institute. "We're trying to provide healthier options for these
children, and in the long run we hope they learn to eat healthier and
incorporate that into their daily living."
Although the 3,000 pupils in the study haven't been put on the low-carb
diet, many of the diet's guiding principles have been incorporated into
White bread has been stricken and replaced with whole-wheat. White potatoes
were subbed with sweet potatoes. French fries were abolished. Grilled
chicken replaced breaded chicken. Fruit is dessert.
Students at the beginning of the school year were weighed, their height
was measured and their blood pressure and pulse recorded.
Those same measurements will be taken in April. The institute has paid
for the $10,000 extra cost.
The new menus were "a little bit slow catching on, but now the
students seem to be enjoying the meals," said Jean Palmore, food
service director for the Osceola County School District. Four of the
schools have changed their menus and the other two are being used as
controls with unchanged menus.
As many as half of the pupils at the test schools didn't eat their lunches
at the beginning of the year. Now just 15 percent are in that category
after tweaks to the menu.
"We tried a veggie burger, but that was not a popular thing,"
On a recent day, the difference in menus between a test school and control
school was apparent. Pleasant Hill Elementary School, a control school,
served onion rings as a side dish. Mill Creek served veggie sticks with
Besides initial pupil finickiness, the biggest obstacle has been access
to healthier ingredients. The school district is part of a buying group
with other districts.
But most other schools aren't ordering whole-wheat pasta.
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Police: Teacher let kids make drug equipment
Abingdon woman set to appear in court today
Brad Erickson, Peoria Journal Star, 3/8/05
ABINGDON - An Abingdon High School teacher accused of allowing students
to make drug paraphernalia in metal shop class is to appear today in
Knox County court.
Rebecca A. Boswell, 45, of 306 N. Main in Abingdon was arrested Monday
and charged with felony contributing to the criminal delinquency of
a juvenile, Police Chief William Robinson said.
Boswell gave a letter of resignation to School District 217 and was
taken to the county jail.
School Superintendent Magie Roberts said Boswell joined the staff last
August as an industrial technology teacher after working in private
Robinson said Abingdon police searched the high school March 1 with
drug dogs from the Knox County and Mercer County sheriff's departments
and the Kewanee Police Department. The sweep led to the arrest of one
student for possession of less than 2.5 grams of marijuana.
After the March 1 sweep and arrest, numerous students told police that
a shop teacher was allowing some students to make drug paraphernalia
in the metal shop class, Robinson said.
Police gave the information to school officials, who asked for an investigation.
"We want all of our teachers and adults in the building to be good
role models for our students," Roberts said.
After students gave statements, Robinson interviewed Boswell. He said
she admitted allowing paraphernalia to be taken from the shop class.
Asked what kind of paraphernalia was being made, Robinson said, "in
general terms, hitter pipes and hitter boxes." He declined to say
Police caught a student with a hitter pipe at the high school about
seven weeks ago. The student had been telling others, "Hey, here's
a hitter pipe I made in shop class," Robinson said.
Boswell was questioned but denied any knowledge of the pipe, Robinson
said. The student did not implicate her at that time.
But after March 1, the student said Boswell watched him make the pipe
and inspected it when he was done, Robinson said.
The chief said police will continue to interview students at the high
school for the next few weeks.
"The teachers and staff have been very helpful and very cooperative
with us in trying to eradicate drugs," Robinson said.
"I think it sent a shock through the staff there at the high school
as well as all teachers in the community. I have no reason to think
any other teachers are involved in this," Robinson said.
Asked if she was surprised that school officials apparently were unaware
of the situation, Superintendent Roberts said, "In my 30 years
in education, I have had other things be known by the students and not
be known by the adults."
District 217 has about 780 K-12 students in three schools.
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How do the new
teachers measure up?
The "high-aptitude" women who once chose to teach are no longer
filling America's classrooms, a study suggests.
By Teresa Méndez, Staff writer of The Christian Science Monitor, 3/8/05
No longer your stereotypical schoolmarm, a schoolteacher today has a
profile markedly different from a generation ago. She - teachers are
still overwhelmingly female - is less likely to make teaching a lifelong
career. Having possibly worked in another field first, she's a bit older
than her counterpart 40 years ago. Chances are, she's also more educated.
But there's one shift in the new demographic of teachers that has drawn
particular attention - and concern. It seems that fewer "high-aptitude"
women - those from the most selective colleges with stellar SAT scores
- are becoming elementary and high school teachers.
"These teachers were never a big share, but they were a non-negligible
share," says Caroline Hoxby, a professor of economics at Harvard
University in Cambridge, Mass., whose research focuses on the economics
of education. "People say they were important leaders. They weren't
in every classroom but they were mentors." Ms. Hoxby and Andrew
Leigh of the Australian National University have authored the latest
study on aptitude in the newest generation of schoolteachers.
In a sense, their findings simply underscore a broader issue - the widespread
need for talented teachers to step up to the chalkboard as baby boomers
begin retiring. To fill the vacancies, as many as 2.2 million teachers
are needed between 2000 and 2010. Certainly most experts would agree
that creative new strategies must be employed to ensure the brightest
are included in this bunch.
But lost in talk of how best to recruit a fresh crop of teachers has
been the equally pressing problem of retention. More than 20 percent
of beginning teachers quit after four years, and many barely survive
the first year's baptism by fire. Some educators believe that this tough
work environment and the sink-or-swim attitude toward new teachers are
keeping people away.
In "Wage Distortion," however - which appears in the current
issue of Education Next, a journal published by Stanford University's
Hoover Institution - Hoxby and Mr. Leigh suggest that pay is the reason
so few high-aptitude women opt to teach. Specifically, they cite "pay
compression," whereby the salary differential between high- and
low-aptitude public school teachers has narrowed since the 1960s, so
that today "those with the highest aptitude earn no more than those
with the lowest."
Even more troubling, say Hoxby and Leigh, pay compression has not only
diminished the number of smart female teachers, but it has also increased
the share of women from bottom-tier colleges who performed poorly on
This explanation defies conventional wisdom. Most experts hold that
fewer women are going into teaching than in the past because such an
array of appealing career options is open to them - both service-oriented
and more lucrative. Women looking to help people can become doctors
or work for public-interest groups. More graduates consider law and
engineering, while investment banks and management consulting firms
recruit women from selective schools on campus.
As a result, the so-called "hidden subsidy of education,"
those talented, well-educated women - and minorities - who traditionally
filled the ranks, is disappearing, says Susan Moore Johnson, director
of the Project on the Next Generation of Teachers at Harvard's Graduate
School of Education.
Morgaen Donaldson, a doctoral student on Professor Johnson's research
team, says that during her first year teaching in a Boston public school
she would be asked, "You went to Princeton. Why aren't you a lawyer?"
She'd respond by asking why someone with an undergraduate degree from
Princeton University shouldn't be a teacher. But Ms. Donaldson worries
that some elite colleges may be sending their graduates the message
that teaching is an "antiintellectual profession."
Not all research suggests that today's teachers are less able than their
predecessors. According to a 2000 study by Public Agenda, the public
opinion research group, about half of superintendents and principals
believe the quality of new teachers has improved in recent years.
In 1999, the Educational Testing Service in Princeton, N.J., found teachers
did as well as or better than other college-educated adults on three
measures of literacy, including reading comprehension and math.
Of course there are other, intangible qualities effective teachers have
that may not appear in studies or on tests. "How do you measure
a caring teacher?" asks Jacqueline Ancess of Columbia University's
Teachers College in New York.
As a group, special education teachers tend not to perform as well on
standardized tests, often because they grapple with learning disabilities
of their own. But it's this experience, says Barnett Berry, president
of the Southeast Center for Teaching Quality in Chapel Hill, N.C., that
enables them to to pass adaptive strategies on to students.
To lure talented women back to teaching, Hoxby and Leigh suggest that
teachers' pay be tied to performance rather than seniority, as is often
the case now.
Johnson says the Project on the Next Generation of Teachers has found
that new teachers do expect differentiated pay that reflects their value
and skills. It's a controversial idea that teachers unions have fought
in the past. Now, all eyes are on Denver, where, with union support,
the school district recently embarked on an experiment with performance
pay. Still, Johnson and others warn that "performance" must
be evaluated carefully, incorporating factors beyond student scores.
At the Bronx Preparatory Charter School in New York's South Bronx, performance
is evaluated, among other ways, by conversations with students in addition
to test scores.
Recruiting talented teachers is always a challenge, says founder and
director Kristin Kearns Jordan, but she believes it's one all sectors
face. Ms. Jordan graduated from Brown University in Providence, R.I.
Before that she attended Phillips Exeter Academy, the preparatory school
in New Hampshire - where her former history teacher told the alumni
magazine, "You could see Kristin as a lawyer or investment banker.
She's brought the same sort of acumen to the world of education and
her vision to make a difference to children."
For a group that has proven to be inspired more by intrinsic than extrinsic
motivation, pay may not be as important as economists think. Jordan
says, "The people we recruit see this as a way of changing the
Research indicates that while most teachers do feel underpaid, unless
salaries were increased substantially, other factors are more important
to them. (Although Donaldson does suggest that burdensome college loans
may prevent some women from the Ivy League from choosing to teach.)
In the 2000 survey, Public Agenda found that given a choice between
better student behavior and parental support or a significantly higher
salary, 86 percent of new teachers would choose better behavior and
support; 82 percent would choose a more supportive administration over
If Hoxby and Leigh are right, and a differentiated pay scale based on
performance would draw more of the brightest women to teaching, a better
working environment, with more mentoring and support, may be the key
to keeping them. Teachers interviewed by the Project on the Next Generation
of Teachers also said they crave more teamwork, room to grow into leadership
positions, and tracks that combine teaching with other responsibilities
such as curriculum development and mentoring.
Public Agenda's survey "A Sense of Calling: Who Teaches and Why"
concluded that new teachers' passion for teaching is "palpable,
vastly underappreciated, and a valuable asset that money can't buy."
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Kansas to hold
six days of hearings over evolution
By John Milburn, Associated Press, 3/8/05
TOPEKA, Kan. — Eighty years after the Scopes Monkey Trial, State Board
of Education members plan to hear arguments over whether they should
add information on a form of creationism to Kansas' science standards.
The board's subcommittee on science standards agreed Monday to have
six days of hearings in May in Topeka. The subcommittee, concerned that
the hearings might be compared to the 1925 trial of high school science
teacher John Scopes in Dayton, Tenn., said they aren't putting evolution
on trial. Scopes was convicted of giving lessons on the theory.
"That was a trial, these are hearings," said Board Chairman
Steve Abrams, of Arkansas City. "I hope we have a greater understanding
of each other's positions."
The subcommittee members are Abrams, Kathy Martin, of Clay Center, and
Connie Morris, of St. Francis, all Republicans, and half of six conservatives
holding a majority on the 10-member board. Later this year, the board
expects to consider changes in the science standards, which currently
describe evolution as a key concept for students to learn.
The three board members tentatively set their hearings for May 5-7 and
12-14, with the exact times and place to be determined. During the hearings,
only scientists will testify, according to the subcommittee. The scientists
will include experts on evolution and proponents of other ideas about
the origins of life.
The board members also picked a theme, from a 2001 congressional report
on the federal No Child Left Behind education reform law — saying science
should be open to alternative theories when there are controversies.
"We're trying to get to the bottom of a great controversy,"
Last year, the Board of Education appointed a 26-member panel of educators
to propose changes in the existing science standards.
However, in January, conservatives questioned whether the panel had
adequately considered views from advocates of creationism or intelligent
design. A minority on the panel also sought to ensure that students
are exposed to more criticism of evolution. Conservatives then called
for public hearings.
The board's subcommittee on science standards had considered taking
only written arguments. But Morris said she favored oral arguments,
allowing more questions and giving creationism equal time with evolution.
She said students should be exposed to all views and should reach conclusions
about the origins of life based on what they are taught at home.
"I know in my heart what my religious beliefs are," Morris
Evolution says that species change in response to environmental and
genetic factors over the course of many generations. Intelligent design,
a form of creationism, holds that there's evidence of an intelligent
design behind the origin of the universe, the formation of the Earth
and biological change.
Opponents of injecting more criticism of evolution into science classes
contend it would be a step toward teaching intelligent design or creationism,
which holds life and the Earth were created by God from nothing.
Harry McDonald, president of Kansas Citizens for Science and a retired
Olathe high school science teacher, described the hearings as a "farce"
and "fiasco." His organization doesn't want scientists to
As for the board, McDonald said, "They are looking for a stage
to pretend they are judging science."
Abrams said the outcome of the hearings wasn't predetermined.
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First Lady's Initiative
Aimed At Providing Stability for Youths
By Jim VandeHei, Washington Post Staff Writer, 3/8/05
PITTSBURGH, March 7 -- President Bush and first lady Laura Bush joined
up Monday at a community college here to promote their plan to help
at-risk youths, especially those living in big cities, and announce
a White House conference on the issue to be held this autumn.
"We have got to make sure that the great strength of our country
-- the hearts and souls of our citizens -- are directed in such a way
that every child can be saved," Bush told local residents and community
leaders at the Community College of Allegheny County. "We are worried
about gangs, we are worried about drugs, we are worried about bad choices."
First lady Laura Bush, introduced by President Bush, said the White
House youth proposal includes encouraging stable two-parent households.
(Kevin Lamarque -- Reuters)
The president's solution is to promote a new, modestly funded initiative
aimed at creating safer neighborhoods, more stable families and better
educational opportunities for at-risk youths, particularly boys.
The first couple toured a Catholic after-school program at the Providence
Family Support Center here that provides tutoring and other assistance
to teenagers and younger students in the city. Afterward, the Bushes
touted the after-school program and the broader White House campaign
to help young people.
"The truth of the matter is I am the introducer," Bush said
as he presented the first lady as the driving force behind the policy.
"This is a real role reversal," Laura Bush said. "I have
listened to a million of his speeches. Now he has to listen to one of
She detailed the White House plan to make grants to faith-based and
other community organizations to encourage stable two-parent households
and efforts to cut down on drug use and violence. This is part of a
broader White House campaign to give religious groups a larger role
in administering social services.
Bush's 2006 budget contains $385 million -- a $150 million increase
over the current budget -- for programs to mentor children, help former
prisoners and drug addicts, and provide support for young mothers. The
fund, which makes grants to community groups, is slated for an increase,
even as the White House is proposing cuts in funding for many traditional
The Bushes highlighted a plan to spend $50 million to mentor children
of prisoners, which the administration estimates is enough to help more
than 100,000 children over three years. In documents sent to reporters,
the White House also noted an effort to double abstinence-only sex education
programs over the next three years. Critics charge that Bush is cutting
other programs that have been effective helping teens, including for
juvenile justice and delinquency prevention.
"Children and parents need to know where they can get help,"
Laura Bush said. White House aides said the president is exploring additional
ways to assist faith-based groups help children, perhaps by calling
for more vouchers to religious groups later this year. Laura Bush said
she would unveil a new government guide for helping community leaders
at this fall's White House conference on Helping America's Youth.
"Community groups will tell us what is working in the field,"
she said. "The more children hear positive messages from adults,
the less likely they are to engage in risky behavior."
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to rid mercury from labs
By Ben Feller, Associated Press, 3/7/05
WASHINGTON — As mercury spills in schools disrupt classes, teachers
and environmental groups want to rid student labs of the versatile but
In recent weeks, mercury was found in stairwells and corridors of a
high school in the nation's capital. The building had to be closed twice
for decontamination and still more traces were found Sunday even as
cleaning crews were wrapping up their work in preparation for reopening
the school Monday.
"We're shocked," District of Columbia Public Schools spokeswoman
Leonie Campbell said.
The building would be closed again Monday, school officials announced.
They were searching for an alternate location to hold classes.
Although the spills get headlines, the use of mercury in schools actually
is declining, said Ken Roy, a physics teacher in Glastonbury, Conn.,
and co-chairman of the National Science Teachers Association's safety
"The awareness is so high now that I would say a good part of it
(mercury) is gone from schools," Roy said. "The problem comes
when a teacher retires, and someone new comes in and finds a horde of
it in a cabinet in a chemical storeroom. You've got to dig for it."
In its elemental form, mercury is shiny, silver and odorless. It is
the only metal on earth that is liquid at room temperature.
In schools, mercury is found in fever thermometers, electronic light
switches and other basic equipment. It is most common in science labs,
where mercury-filled instructional tools have been used for decades.
But the fascination with small beads of mercury has given way to talk
of their potential risks.
Mercury turns into a problem when it is spilled and evaporates into
airborne vapors, which can be absorbed into the body through breathing.
Exposure to high levels of metallic mercury can damage the brain, kidneys
and lungs. Prolonged exposure to lower levels can cause problems with
sleep, sight, hearing and memory, according to the federal Agency for
Toxic Substances and Disease Registry.
The Environmental Protection Agency has encouraged schools to remove
mercury compounds and mercury-containing equipment. The agency is helping
schools get rid of those materials.
At least nine states have created programs to speed up the removal of
mercury from schools through lab clean-outs and educational outreach
to teachers, the EPA says.
Schools are finding safe alternatives, such as electronic thermometers
in place of mercury ones, and generally have not reduced their science
labs, Roy said. "If anything, more lab activities are being done,"
he said. "Professional safety training is the key here."
Mercury is required to be safely secured as a hazardous material, Roy
said. But some students have taken possession of it at school or at
home and caused a health scare.
No firm statistics on all mercury spills at schools are available, federal
But the number of reported spills in schools is on the rise, according
to the EPA. The agency responded to 12 emergency removals in 2004, with
cleanup costs as high as $200,000.
Since late February, mercury has been detected twice at Cardozo Senior
High School in the District of Columbia, forcing the closing of the
building for decontamination. Officials were planning to reopen the
facility Monday, but mercury was found for a third time late Sunday.
In 2003, mercury stolen from a science lab ended up being spread throughout
Ballou High School, also in the capital. The school was closed for 35
days, with cleanup costs of $1.5 million, the EPA said.
Since then, the city's school system has banned mercury from its buildings.
Over the past few years, reports of mercury spills have come from schools
in Arizona, Kentucky, Michigan, Massachusetts, Mississippi and Nevada.
"I don't think there was the general knowledge of the health hazards
of mercury that we have today," said John Risher, mercury chemical
manager for the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry. "A
lot of information was there, it just wasn't widely disseminated."
TOP OF PAGE
Building a better
SAT? Yale psychologist thinks he's done it
By Justin Pope, AP, 3/5/05
Critics of the SATs say there's more to intelligence than finding grammar
errors and solving geometry problems – or even, this year, than showing
you can write an essay.
But how to measure those other abilities? Robert Sternberg, a Yale University
psychologist, believes he's developed a test that does just that. The
test, dubbed "The Rainbow Project," evaluates creativity and
problem-solving rather than analytical skills. Instead of multiple choice
questions, it asks students to write captions for cartoons, outline
how they would solve a problem, or write stories with unusual titles
like "The Octopus's Sneakers" or "35,381."
What most interests many experts about Sternberg's early experiments
is that they appear to predict students' freshman GPA in college more
accurately than SAT scores, and with a narrower gap between ethnic and
"If you're growing up in a poor family, there's got to be more
emphasis on developing creative and practical skills," Sternberg
The test results could be interpreted as a threat to the College Board,
which has funded Sternberg's research, and Sternberg says some in the
testing field have reacted defensively. He is waiting to hear soon if
the College Board will fund an expanded trial that would show if the
patterns hold beyond the initial 800-student sample.
College Board President Gaston Caperton said he is excited by the project
and hopes to continue to work with Sternberg, though no funding decision
has been made. He said the College Board will have to look closely at
whether the test could be feasibly administered and graded, and to make
sure clever students can't beat the system to raise their score.
Sternberg says the problems can be overcome.
"We can't afford to have a lot of people who could do really great
stuff for our society not given the chance because they can't get through
the testing system," he said.
TOP OF PAGE
State seeks White
House commitment on No Child
Jennifer Dobner, AP, 3/9/05
SALT LAKE CITY -- The Utah Senate's Republican caucus has asked the
White House for a written commitment that ensures the state -- not the
federal government -- has full control over Utah schools.
A letter sent to President George Bush on Monday said, "At a minimum,
we are looking for a written statement that assures the State of Utah
full control of governance and accountability
measures in Utah schools."
Utah lawmakers and educators object to the mandates of the federal "No
Child Left Behind" law because of the way it measures school, teacher
and student success and because they believe education performance should
be a matter of local control.
"We, as a caucus, felt like we wanted the federal Department of
the Education to really understand that we are not just instituting
a rebellion, but that we truly and deeply felt like No Child Left Behind
was not working as it was implemented," Senate President John Valentine,
R-Orem, said of the letter he signed. "Utah was accomplishing many
of the same goals through the program that we have, that we are now
required to scrap."
Last week, the Utah Senate delayed final action on a bill that would
let Utah prioritize NCLB standards behind the state's own system of
The delay came at the request of Gov. Jon Huntsman, who asked for time
to negotiate with the White House and U.S. Education Secretary Margaret
Huntsman is scheduled to meet with Spellings in Washington Tuesday,
his spokeswoman, Tammy Kikuchi said.
The governor has already called for an April 20 special session of the
Legislature in order for the Senate to take up a final vote on the bill,
which was left hanging when the 2005 legislative session ended at midnight
Susan Aspey, spokeswoman for the Department of Education, has said that
the agency looks forward to working with Utah leaders to ensure "every
child has the chance they deserve to learn."
Many states have challenged NCLB, but among the 15 legislatures addressing
NCLB this year, the Utah proposal is seen as one of the sharpest denunciations
of the federal law.
Last year, Utah tried to opt out of NCLB but backed down after White
House officials came to Utah and threatened to pull some of the state's
federal education funding.
Valentine said he could list dozens of examples of schools where teachers
and students are making academic progress but are considered failing
Still, he is optimistic about Utah's chances to negotiate with the federal
government. As a former Bush administration ambassador, Huntsman is
a "known quantity" in Washington, and former Gov. Mike Leavitt's
post in the Bush cabinet also should help, Valentine said.
"I believe that will help us get a fair hearing, and that's all
we are asking for," he said.
State Superintendent of Public Instruction Patti Harrington agrees.
She said the state should be guaranteed local control of schools under
the 10th Amendment and calls NCLB a "federal intrusion" on
those rights. Harrington applauded the Senate for asking the White House
for a commitment.
"The federal government has a vested interested in the outcome.
I wish they would back away from the process and focus on the results.
That to me is appropriate," said Harrington, who will attend the
Should things go awry in Washington and the Utah Senate move ahead to
pass the legislation, the state could again face federal sanctions,
Harrington and Valentine acknowledge.
But Valentine believes that even under the proposed legislation, Utah
would have a "credible legal position to go into court and show
that we've met compliance."
"I'm not advocating that," he said. "But it makes sense
to be able to show the federal Department of Education that we are meeting
the federal requirements, but that we are just not meeting them in the
same cookbook fashion that they are attempting to enforce."
TOP OF PAGE
State ban on paddling unruly students not yet approved
Lillian Thomas, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
Though the paddle wielded against unruly students is a rarity in Pennsylvania
schools, members of the state House Education Committee are reluctant
to hang it up altogether.
The committee canceled a meeting scheduled for yesterday to discuss
an update to education regulations because members are uncomfortable
with a provision that would prohibit corporal punishment in schools.
They also have concerns about changes to regulations on students' freedom
Because of those concerns, expressed in a heated hearing last month,
the State Board of Education withdrew the proposed changes and plans
to rework them.
Corporal punishment is an issue that gets people on both sides riled
up, even though evidence indicates that it's not used that frequently
in the districts that permit it.
The state allows districts to set policy and does not keep data on which
districts permit corporal punishment, but a Temple University study
conducted several years ago found that about 400 of 501 school districts
At the Feb. 23 hearing, however, Rep. Ronald Miller, R-York, said corporal
punishment was "darn effective" and he and other committee
members questioned the idea of prohibiting it.
"Several of the legislators did not want to ban corporal punishment,"
said Edith Isacke, head of the State Board of Education committee that
has been working since 1996 on revisions to a series of regulations
on student rights and responsibilities known as Chapter 12. The revisions
were formally presented in 2003 and must be approved by late December
or the whole process will have to start from scratch.
"Not many schools have corporal punishment anymore; 28 states ban
it. But we still have people that believe that you should paddle kids,"
Isacke said. The practice is more common in some private schools, not
generally affected by state bans.
Cases in which it's used against parents' wishes tend to generate publicity.
In Illinois, a mother withdrew her 6-year-old son from Schaumburg Christian
School in a suburb of Chicago rather than comply with the school's regulation
that required that she spank her son for talking too much in class,
chewing gum and bringing toys to school, the Chicago Tribune reported.
Current Pennsylvania regulations let districts set policy on corporal
punishment, but in all cases parents must be notified and can tell the
district in writing that they do not want their children subjected to
corporal punishment. The proposed change would prohibit corporal punishment
except in self-defense, to break up a fight, to gain control of a weapon
or other dangerous object, or to protect people or property.
Districts contacted for this article that permit corporal punishment
said it is used sparingly.
"It is rarely used but we do permit it," said Deborah Kolonay,
superintendent of Penn-Trafford schools.
The instrument is a paddle and the principal administers it. It is not
used at all at the elementary level, and no more than 10 times a year
at the middle school level and 10 times a year at the high school level,
The district's policy is in the student handbook and in a newsletter
sent out each school year. In recent years, from one to 20 families
have notified the district that they wished to opt out, Kolonay said.
"It is used as a last resort, and this after consultation with
parents and discussion between the principal and the parents,"
State Rep. Jess Stairs, R-Mount Pleasant, chairman of the House Education
Committee, said he hadn't polled his members on the issue. But at the
hearing Feb. 23, some were specifically in favor of retaining corporal
punishment, while others said they were reluctant to infringe on the
right of individual school districts to set disciplinary policy.
He said he shared the latter concern, seeing it as a "balance of
power" issue in which the executive branch was usurping legislative
Stairs said he would meet with education committee members as well as
members of the State Board of Education.
"We do want to draft a letter, so they can be a little closer to
what we want," he said.
Isacke said her committee was asked to define "corporal punishment"
and to clarify the phrase "immediate or serious harm" in the
section on freedom of expression that says, "Students have the
right to express themselves unless such expression materially and substantially
interferes with the educational process, threatens immediate or serious
harm to the welfare of the school or community, encourages unlawful
activity or interferes with another individual's rights."
"We have a meeting March 16 and we'll discuss what changes to make.
We don't want to go back without making those changes, because they
might vote it down."
That has happened a number of times to the Chapter 12 revisions.
"We started in 1996, then we withdrew it, then we started in earnest
again in 2000. There were a lot of other issues at that time. Now it's
just boiled down to these two," she said.
TOP OF PAGE
Bill would help public school students go to private
Kavita Kumar, St. Louis Post-Dispatch
A bill that would create a privately funded scholarship program backed
by state tax credits could send thousands of public school students
to parochial or private schools.
The controversial proposal has found fertile ground this year amid growing
frustration with some public schools and a new political landscape in
Jefferson City. It is being supported by a diverse coalition of legislators
and community leaders - Democrats and Republicans, blacks and whites,
and school voucher supporters and opponents.
The bill's proponents are adamant that this is not a school voucher
program, but critics who are mobilizing against it, including teachers
unions, call it a "back door to vouchers" that would divert
money from public schools.
People on both sides of the issue acknowledge that the bill has significant
support in the House and Senate.
The bill, sponsored by Reps. Ted Hoskins, D-Berkeley, Rodney Hubbard,
D-St. Louis, and Jane Cunningham, R-Chesterfield, appears to be on a
fast track. A House committee is expected to vote on the bill late this
James Buford, president of the St. Louis Urban League, said he opposes
vouchers because they take state money away from public schools. But
he favors this plan because the money would come from private sources
and would give students stuck in troubled schools an option.
"These schools are abysmally failing our kids," Buford said.
He added that he supports public schools, but it's going to take many
years to fix them.
"I don't think I could say to you right now that this is the sentiment
of the African-American community, but it's a growing sentiment and
it's out there," he said.
Under the House bill, students accepting the tuition scholarships would
have to be enrolled in, or have dropped out of, an unaccredited or provisionally
accredited school district. In the St. Louis area, that would include
St. Louis, Normandy and Wellston school districts. The bill's sponsors
say more than 10,000 children could receive scholarships.
Eligible families could earn no more than 185 percent of the eligibility
level for free and reduced-price lunches. For a family of four, that
would mean no more than about $64,515.
Children with disabilities meeting certain other criteria also would
be eligible for some scholarships.
Here's how the program would work:
Businesses and people could donate money to nonprofit educational assistance
The state would give up to $40 million in tax credits for up to 85 percent
of the private contributions. The state would come out ahead because
it would pay less in aid to school districts whose students got scholarships
to other schools.
The education groups would distribute the money to eligible students.
Most of the scholarship money would go toward tuition at a private school
or a better-performing public school, textbooks, transportation costs
and supplies. An average scholarship would be $3,800, up to a maximum
Priority would be given to students with the greatest need, such as
children of inmates, foster children, students who have been suspended
at least twice for 12 days or expelled, and students with a 2.5 grade-point
average or lower.
The rest of the scholarship money would go to defray costs such as after-school
tutoring, high school equivalency programs and apprenticeship programs.
Spence Jackson, a spokesman for Gov. Matt Blunt, said the governor supports
the bill's concept. But Blunt has said he opposes school vouchers.
"We will work with (Rep. Cunningham) to craft a bill that we can
enact," Jackson said.
One of the issues Blunt would like to take another look at is the size
of the tax credit, Jackson said.
Many public education advocates say the scholarships, while technically
not vouchers, would hurt public schools.
"You can call it what you want to, but it is a back door to vouchers.
This is strictly dismantling the public schools," said Luana Gifford,
a lobbyist for the AFL-CIO and the Missouri Federation of Teachers.
She said the bill is supposed to help disadvantaged children in the
public schools, but private schools may not find students who have academic
or behavior problems attractive prospects.
Martin Angell is a lobbyist who promotes the idea of scholarship tax
credits around the country and has spent much of the past two years
working on the Missouri bill. He said he expects that the bill would
spawn new private schools to fill certain niches, such as serving students
with discipline issues.
"So the bill will fill classrooms, but it will also build schools,"
Brent Ghan, spokesman for the Missouri School Boards Association, said
similar programs in other states have not often benefited students in
"Tuition is usually far greater than any scholarship or voucher
would pay for, so it still does not allow much choice for many people,"
He said his group and others are watching the bill closely. "In
our view, it's still an indirect use of public money for private education.
And most of the education community is solidly against it."
The bill also has raised the eyebrows of some legislators who asked
for Cunningham to step down as chairwoman of the House Education Committee
last month. They pointed out that she raised more than $380,000 for
Republican candidates, with much of the money coming from All Children
Matter, a political action committee that supports school vouchers.
Cunningham has said that the money was given without strings and that
she abided by all ethics rules on campaign contributions.
TOP OF PAGE
admits losing school's $844,478 on gambling
By MARK MORRIS, Kansas City Star, 3/9/05
The former superintendent of a tiny northwest Missouri school district
admitted in federal court Tuesday that he gambled away $844,478 of the
district's state and federal aid.
Ronnie G. DeShon, who resigned in October as superintendent of the Pattonsburg
R-II school district, pleaded guilty to federal program fraud and confessed
to embezzling the money from 2000 through 2004. The district's budgets
during that period ran between $1.8 million and $2 million a year.
Pattonsburg is about 70 miles northeast of Kansas City. School officials
said the district serves 199 students and employs 23 teachers, two principals
and a half dozen other workers.
“This is public money that should have been spent on teachers and textbooks,
but instead went into his own pocket,” said U.S. Attorney Todd Graves.
“DeShon wasn't just stealing from some government program. He was stealing
from the children in his schools and the taxpayers of the community.”
DeShon, 50, told Senior U.S. District Judge Howard Sachs that he had
a gambling addiction and had lost the money “gambling throughout the
The embezzling stopped in mid-October when he drove to Kansas City and
asked to speak with Assistant U.S. Attorney Linda Parker Marshall at
the federal courthouse.
“I knew the bulk of the money was federal and that it was a federal
crime,” DeShon said. “I just came to Kansas City to speak with the people
who would indict me.”
DeShon said he had successfully hidden the thefts from district auditors,
but school board members were growing suspicious.
“I knew the current audit wouldn't show anything, as it hadn't in the
previous three years, but I just wanted to give up,” DeShon said.
Details of how he misled the school board are unclear, but employees
were told during his tenure that the district lacked funds to buy equipment
and retain teachers.
Authorities said DeShon had school district money wired directly into
his personal account while preparing bogus financial statements for
From his office in Pattonsburg, interim Superintendent Bob Bruner ticked
off the hard consequences of DeShon's crime. For lack of funds, teachers
were laid off at the end of the 2002-2003 school year, including an
art instructor, a home economics teacher and a part-time remedial math
teacher. Because a librarian also was let go, guidance counselors spent
less time with students and more time shelving books. Numerous requests
for updated computers also were turned down.
While the art and home economics teachers have been rehired, the school
still doesn't have a librarian or remedial math teacher.
“Those are big items that were a direct result of that money not being
available to the schools,” Bruner said.
While an insurance policy should recover most of the loss, Bruner noted
that about $100,000 in lawyers' fees and lost interest probably are
gone for good.
During the four years DeShon was superintendent, the district bounced
off and on the state's “financially stressed” list, a measure of the
district's financial health. A district makes the list when its cash
on hand drops below a certain percentage of its budget, said Jim Morris,
a spokesman for the Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary
Education. The district is not currently on the list, Morris said.
A graduate of Kearney High School and Northwest Missouri State University,
DeShon was appointed Clay County parks director in 1977 at age 22. He
left the following year after a disagreement with the county parks commission
to pursue a career in education.
In the 1990s, he worked at Northwest Missouri State University, winning
four Mid-America Intercollegiate Athletics Association championships
as the women's track and cross country coach. He resigned in 1997, telling
a Kansas City Star reporter that he wanted to pursue other career options.
DeShon's embezzlement scheme at Pattonsburg began within months of his
appointment as superintendent in July 2000, according to federal court
Like many school districts in Missouri, Pattonsburg put its money in
a central investment program that managed about $600 million in assets.
In September 2000, DeShon contacted the program, identifying an account
at the Northwest Missouri Regional Credit Union as a “second account”
for the district. He directed that payments to the district be made
to the credit union. The investment program was not aware that the credit
union account was DeShon's personal account, prosecutors said.
From Sept. 6, 2000, to Oct. 7, 2004, DeShon regularly sent instructions
to the investment program, ordering it to wire money directly into his
bank account, according to court records.
To cover his tracks, DeShon made false entries in the district's books,
showing the correct amount of funds, even posting bogus interest payments
totaling about $60,000.
When DeShon turned himself in to federal authorities the district's
coffers were almost bare.
“Because of DeShon's fraud, at the time of his resignation in October
2004, the district's bank account had a balance of only $14,” Graves
The account should have had a balance of $740,000, court records said.
Shouldn't the district's auditors have caught the thefts?
“That's a real good question,” Bruner said. “We (now) have a different
CPA firm. Good auditors tell you they should do third-party verification
with the bank. That did not appear to have happened here.”
Bruner also said he has changed procedures to encourage more transparency
in the district's finances, allowing board members to check financial
statements with the investment program without depending solely on the
word of the superintendent.
“We're going to be doing everything in Pattonsburg to make certain this
does not happen again,” Bruner said.
DeShon could receive up to 10 years in prison, however, an advisory
sentence calculated in his plea agreement suggests a range of two-and-a-half
to three years and one month.
DeShon is expected to ask for a lower sentence, arguing that he should
be given credit for voluntarily disclosing that he had stolen the money.
Such allowances sometimes are made if the confession was prompted by
genuine remorse. Graves, however, cautioned that by meeting with Marshall,
DeShon may have been trying to make the best of a bad situation.
“There was a special school board meeting that night to look into this,”
Also Tuesday, the state opened an investigation of DeShon that could
ultimately strip him of his teaching certificate.
TOP OF PAGE
their news quickly with giant phone networks
City Unified is the latest district to send notes, warnings in many
By Laurel Rosenhall, Sacramento Bee Staff Writer, 3/9/05
When a sewer line breaks at Nevada Union High School in Grass Valley
or students at Natomas High fail to turn in their senior projects, school
officials at both campuses use the same tool to let parents know what's
It's not the backpack-stuffer.
"A lot of times those communications don't get home if you give
it to a student in a flier," said Natomas High School Principal
The schools use a computerized telephone service that allows them to
send thousands of recorded voice messages in minutes. The messages arrive
on parents' home, work and cell phones in the voice of school officials,
and in the language each family speaks.
"It's an enormously powerful communication tool for our families,"
said Steve Farrar, superintendent of the Natomas Unified School District.
The district routinely sends messages in English, Spanish and Punjabi.
That desire to communicate quickly in many languages is one reason the
Sacramento City Unified School District is spending $240,000 for the
system, called Connect-ED. Launched today, it will allow them to contact
the families of 48,000 students - who speak at least 49 languages -
in English, Spanish, Hmong, Cantonese, Mien, Vietnamese and Russian.
"A school may have 100 families that need Spanish language and
another 10 that need Hmong," said Maria Lopez, school district
Many districts already use an automated phone service to alert parents
if their child is absent or missed a class. But the Connect-ED system,
used by about 3,500 schools districts nationwide, is more flexible,
allowing specific messages to be targeted to specific groups - to alert
the parents of children riding a particular bus, for example, that it's
And it could reap additional benefits: Sacramento City officials hope
it will allow them to involve more parents in school activities and
increase student attendance - and revenue.
Once in operation, principals will use the service to communicate on
a range of issues: student attendance, campus emergencies, information
on parent meetings or reminders about state testing dates.
Here's how it works: A principal calls a toll-free number and records
a voice message. Translators can record the message in additional languages.
Using a computer, the principal then selects the recipients and decides
whether the message should be sent immediately or scheduled to go at
a future time. The service can send about 15,000 messages in 15 minutes.
"I received one the other day on testing, telling me to make sure
the kids eat right and get lots of rest during those days," said
Lisa Rojas, who has four children in Natomas Unified schools.
"They gave us two weeks' notice, and told us when the test dates
are so we don't plan activities."
The service costs about $5 per student per year. The Sacramento City
district will eliminate its current attendance calling system - in place
at some schools but deemed too slow - for a savings of $40,000.
Officials could have opted for a less expensive program - about $3.40
per student per year - that sends messages with a commercial tag line.
But Lopez said they didn't want to bother parents with ads.
The phone service could boost revenue if Sacramento City can mirror
the success elsewhere. Some districts that use it say they have increased
attendance by 1 or 2 percent. That results in increased funding because
the state pays schools based on average daily attendance.
"Not only is it worth the expense, it generates income for us,"
said Natomas Unified's Farrar, whose district pays about $40,000 for
A 1 percent attendance increase would add about $2.2 million a year
to Sacramento City's revenue, said Joan Butt, deputy superintendent.
In Natomas and Nevada County, administrators said they also use the
service to involve parents in campus life.
"Most school districts start considering the Connect-ED system
because of emergency situations. But 90 percent of their calls (end
up being) parent outreach," said Natasha Rabe, vice president of
Notification Technologies Inc., the Los Angeles company that sells the
Districts run the risk of annoying parents with a deluge of automated
phone calls, so the company monitors responses. After a message is sent
out, principals receive a report detailing how many listened to it completely
and how many hung up midway through. If there are a lot of hang-ups,
the company advises shorter messages or less frequent calls.
The system allows messages to be targeted to specific households, meaning
principals can call all parents of third-graders, or all parents of
football players, or all parents whose children have missed an assignment.
"If bus line 48 is held up because of traffic or whatever reason,
they're able to go in and call all the parents of students on bus 48
and tell them that bus 48 is running 15 minutes late, so don't be worried,"
said Terry McAteer, Nevada County superintendent of schools.
All 10 Nevada County school districts use the system, McAteer said.
Principals have used it to notify parents of snow days and to alert
them that students were coming home early when a sewage leak forced
the evacuation of Nevada Union High School.
"This has been one of the best things we've done in our schools
in terms of public relations, but also in terms of what's best for kids,"
In the Natomas district, principal Johnston said he's called to let
parents know that their child missed school, did not turn in a major
assignment or hasn't been wearing gym clothes at P.E.
In some cases, he said, parents have reported phone message overload.
"We get some parents who say 'This is the best thing you've ever
done,' and other parents who say 'Would you stop calling me?'"
"We say, 'Would you rather not know what's going on at school or
would you rather have the information?'"
TOP OF PAGE
cash crunch drive out driver's ed
While the trend saves districts money, parents lose out with fewer options,
By Gene Schabath, The Detroit News, 3/7/05
UTICA -- Driver's education, once as popular as shop class and home
economics, is coming to a screeching halt in school districts across
In fact, two of the area's largest districts -- Utica and Plymouth-Canton
-- just canceled their programs, and experts say most districts in the
state will join them because of a loss in state subsidies and infiltration
by private companies in the highly competitive business.
The trend is good for districts because they no longer have to provide
the service during tough financial times.
But it forces parents and students to shop around for companies when
they traditionally depended on school districts to provide low-cost
Liz Mason is upset that West Bloomfield Schools dropped driver's education
"I have a daughter, Megan, who is about to go through it,"
Mason said. "I was disappointed. It was a great program. My other
daughter, Amanda, went through it (two years ago). It was close to home
and convenient to have it at the school.
"It was also the trust factor," she said. "I am sure
the school did the job of making sure the instructors were accredited."
Mason said her disappointment has been offset by the fact that West
Bloomfield's longtime driver's education coordinator, Dan Rabish, has
formed a private company, TSA, and will instruct Megan.
"Mr. Rabish is an awesome instructor," said Amanda Mason,
who was one of the last students he taught. "I don't like that
they dropped it."
Some students, however, say private programs have become just as convenient
-- and the price and quality of instruction is competitive.
Ryan Stadler, 16, a 10th-grader at Canton High, said students are not
upset that the driver's education classes are being discontinued.
"Most of the students take it though Advanced Driving Academy (a
private company in Canton Township)," Stadler said.
"It's more convenient. It's closer to my home; I think they have
better instruction at ADD. I don't know of anyone who takes it at school."
The Utica and Plymouth-Canton decisions came after the state eliminated
subsidies for the programs last year.
It's a bellwether for more school districts, said Rob Dilday, driver
education coordinator for Utica Schools, the state's third-largest district.
"You will find that most school districts will get out of driver's
training," Dilday said.
The secretary of state's office showed a 21 percent decline in the number
of public schools offering driver's education, from 473 to 369, between
2000 and 2004. The biggest decline, 11 percent -- from 422 to 360 --
occurred from 2003 to 2004, after the state dropped the $90-per-student
Private driver's training companies operating in Michigan have increased
from 119 in 2000 to 183 in 2004.
Once the state cut the subsidy, Utica, Plymouth-Canton and other districts
were forced to raise their rates.
The downward spiral for high school driver's education started in 1997,
when the state no longer required schools to offer the training, said
Brad Huspek, who operates 28 driver education outlets in Michigan for
Sears Authorized Driving School.
"It's been a gradual phasing out (for schools) since then,"
Huspek said. Sears charges about $300 for the course, which is comparable
to other private companies.
After the state dropped the subsidy, Plymouth-Canton hiked its rates
to $320, which included $20 for phase two of driver training last year.
That spelled doom for the program, Patrick Fitzpatrick, program coordinator
for Plymouth-Canton, said.
The decline in public courses means more business for Dave Semrau, owner
of perhaps one of the largest private driver's instruction companies
in the state. Semrau owns Courtesy Driving School, which has more than
a dozen outlets in Metro Detroit, and Birmingham Driving School. Semrau's
companies instruct students from about 40 high schools.
Semrau, who has owned Courtesy for 35 years, said not only do his companies
offer a cheaper rate, but they also have many other features that public
schools do not have.
"The biggest thing in driver education is curriculum, curriculum,
curriculum," Semrau said. "We have a curriculum for the classroom
and a curriculum for the road. And we have a code of conduct. Kids will
sign (a form) that they will act properly, dress properly and not swear.
The parents love it.
"And we work with the schools. We know all of the principals and
we give back to the schools. That's part of doing business with the
schools. We rent rooms in the schools. All of this has given us an increase
Semrau said some schools will always offer driver's education, but many
will get out of the program because of the cost and the loss of state
Huspek said he has had a 10 percent increase in student customers in
the last year, up to 11,000. Another feature that private companies
offer is they will go to students' homes and pick them up for class
or driving instruction, said Fitzpatrick, of Plymouth-Canton.
Several school districts in western Wayne County, including Wayne-Westland
and Livonia, have dropped their driver's education in the past two years,
said Leonard Schemanske, a Canton police officer who owns Advanced Driving
Bloomfield Hills Schools had a steep decline in driver's education students
from about 260 to 130 after the district raised the fee to $570 last
year when the state eliminated the subsidy, said spokeswoman Jennifer
"We've noticed about a 50 percent decline in enrollment since we
had to raise the rate," Woliung said.
TOP OF PAGE
Texas school chief
risks funds in feud with feds
The government may penalize state over tests in special ed
By JUSTIN GEST, Houston Chronicle Washington Bureau, 3/9/05
WASHINGTON - The Texas education commissioner plans to continue to challenge
U.S. Department of Education standardized testing rules, even if it
means losing federal funding for state public schools.
"I know we need that money," Commissioner Shirley Neeley said
this week. "But we're going to fight a brave fight, and we're going
to err on the side of doing what's best for our children any day of
The dispute involves the No Child Left Behind law's cap on the percentage
of students who take alternative tests because they have severe learning
disabilities. Texas allowed 9 percent of its students to take the special
test last year, well beyond the 1 percent limit in the federal guidelines.
U.S. Secretary of Education Margaret Spellings, who helped develop No
Child Left Behind in Texas, maintains that the state inflated its standardized
test results by excusing too many students from more rigorous examinations.
Neeley contends that the alternative test is every bit as stringent
as the regular test and is simply tailored to the needs of students
Now the Department of Education can withhold an unspecified amount of
federal education funding from Texas, whose request for a waiver from
the testing rules was denied.
The Texas education system gets more than $1 billion a year from the
federal government. In January, then-Secretary of Education Rod Paige
of Houston threatened to impose a fine of $444,282, or 4 percent of
federal funding earmarked for administration.
Neeley said Texas has been following state laws that give parents and
instructors the right to decide which test meets the goals of each child's
Texas officials say the federal government has not directed the state
to change its testing practices. Because the same number of alternative
tests have been sent to Texas school districts this year, the state
will almost inevitably exceed the federal limit once again, Texas Education
Agency Associate Commissioner Criss Cloudt said.
Federal officials are taking a conciliatory line with Texas and 15 other
states that may challenge various provisions of the law.
"The goal isn't to punish states," said Department of Education
spokeswoman Susan Aspey. "The goal is to bring them into compliance
and see that the students are learning."
Neeley says she has consulted at least 10 other state education agencies
that did not comply with the special-education provisions.
"We're not trying to be rebels," Neeley said. "I want
the people in Washington to realize that this is not just a Texas problem.
This is a nationwide concern."
Aspey and policy adviser Kerri Briggs said they are investigating why
Texas exceeded the cap on special testing before deciding whether the
state should be hit with a financial penalty. State officials, however,
have already explained their reasons in writing.
Cloudt said No Child Left Behind conflicts with other federal and state
laws that give local districts the authority to designate how many children
should be given alternative tests.
This week, Texas officials were told that representatives from the Department
of Education will travel to Austin sometime this month to review the
education agency's actions and evaluate Texas' special-education exam.
TOP OF PAGE
Despite ads, Detroit
can't lure students
$2 million marketing effort doesn't stop flight from district
By Chastity, Pratt, Detroit Free Press Education Writer, 3/10/05
Detroit Public Schools spent more than $2 million over the past two
years on advertising and marketing efforts designed to increase community
confidence and stop students from fleeing the district by the thousands.
Despite those efforts, enrollment fell by 9,300, fueling a $200-million
budget crisis that has led to cuts, layoffs and school closings.
Critics said the financially-crippled DPS spent too much on marketing
that was too broad and did little to change the poor reputation the
district has had for decades. And unlike other districts that have attracted
students with their marketing, DPS did not raise money to support its
campaign and booked no big-name graduate or celebrity to promote itself.
However, some community leaders and communications specialists maintain
that the district must spend more on ads to combat the ads fired off
by charter schools and suburban districts that have recruited an estimated
40,000 Detroit students during the past decade.
The DPS ads typically tout good news about the district, such as increases
in MEAP scores and the 17 new school buildings constructed with a $1.5-billion
bond. School officials also paid for 15 consultants, millions of flyers,
brochures, and radio, television and print ads in an effort to popularize
the "I am DPS" slogan. The district was peppered with merchandise
embossed with the feel-good slogan: T-shirts, sweatshirts, lapel pins,
calculators and church fans.
None of it has had any measurable effect.
" 'I am DPS?' I am out of here," said Detroiter Eveonne Ibbs,
whose 14-year-old daughter attends Roseville Junior High. Ibbs and her
husband refuse to enroll their daughter in DPS, even though the district
recently announced it will no longer grant waivers for Detroit children
to attend school in districts such as Roseville that typically do not
open their borders to Detroit students.
"I've gotten flyers in the mail. I read them, laughed and threw
them away because I know they're not true," she said. "They're
trying to doctor up an inefficient system to try to make us parents
think that it is, and it's not. Look at the number of freshmen who graduate.
It's Third World, deplorable."
But the more students leave DPS, the more important it is to advertise,
said Ken Coleman, spokesman for the district. "We don't really
apologize for the spending. In a competitive market, we've go to do
Some parents have called the "I am DPS" slogan cute but pointless,
while others deem it a necessary tool to unify the city.
"I'm glad they made a way for the parents to identify with the
system," said Shaton Berry, president of the PTA at Western International
High who received an "I am DPS" T-shirt at Monday's citywide
PTA meeting. She said the spending is worth it because the slogan connects
people. "If we're going to help our kids, we have to have a united
front," she said.
Mike Bernacchi, professor of marketing at the University of Detroit
Mercy, said school officials should spend money on more teachers or
supplies instead of on ads.
"You have to be real careful advertising a product when the first
response is, 'Are you kidding me?' The worst thing is for people to
say, 'They're spending my tax money to promote an untruth or something
that is not true throughout the whole district.' "
The negative press from a $200-million budget problem and the closure
of 34 schools means that the district has to fight back with ads, said
Steve Brown, associate vice president for marketing and communications
for Wayne State University. But it could take at least three years to
see any measurable results, he said.
"It's the right thing to do," he said. "You can always
look back and say, 'If only we had done this two years ago.' But you
have to face the reality of what you're in now and say, 'Let's batten
down the hatches and hold onto the walls.' "
Wendell Anthony, president of the Detroit Branch NAACP and leader of
the school district transition team, said that despite the budget crisis,
more money should be spent on advertising. Positive stories must be
told to build community confidence, he said.
"They don't have a choice on that."
The "I am DPS" campaign was modeled after the "I am APS"
campaign started in Albuquerque, N.M. School officials there raised
$30,000 and solicited media to donate broadcast time, said Rigo Chavez,
spokesman for Albuquerque Public Schools.
Locally, Highland Park brought in almost 1,000 Detroit students this
year -- at $7,000 in state aid per student -- after an aggressive advertising
campaign that featured celebrated attorney Geoffrey Fieger. DPS has
not recruited celebrities or raised money, but used consultants to get
its message out.
Adolph Mongo, a former school district critic who has been a paid consultant
for Detroit Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick, has earned more than $75,000 since
August writing and buying ads and training school officials, according
"Why would they hire me when they have people in-house? I can't
answer that. I don't write policies. Unfortunately, politics push a
lot of the agenda," he said.
"They don't have a real marketing or PR plan. They're starting
to put one together," he said.
TOP OF PAGE
exercise, nutrition bill
By Bruce Schreiner, Associated Press Writer, 3/10/05
FRANKFORT, Ky. -- A bill aimed at promoting exercise in elementary schools
and improving eating habits in schools won final passage in the General
Assembly on Tuesday night.
Health advocates said they were pleased with the final version, which
was hashed out earlier in the evening by a House-Senate conference committee.
Supporters touted the compromise measure as a way to reduce childhood
obesity blamed for diabetes and other health problems.
"This is an important first step for schools, and the right thing
to do for kids," said Tonya Chang with the American Heart Association.
The measure cleared the House on a 63-23 vote. Later, the Senate passed
the measure 23-7, sending it to Gov. Ernie Fletcher.
The measure would require local site-based decision-making councils
to develop "wellness policies" that would include "moderate
to vigorous" physical activity for elementary school pupils each
day. The measure set no guidelines on how long the exercise would have
to last. It would allow up to 30 minutes of exercise to be counted as
part of the instructional day.
"It's got a mandate in it, but at the local level," said Rep.
Tom Burch, D-Louisville, a key negotiator on the final legislation.
Burch, who for years has pushed getting rid of junk food in schools,
called the final measure "the beginning of a good, healthy lifestyle"
"We've still got work to do educating parents about fast foods,"
Sen. Alice Forgy Kerr, R-Lexington, led the push in the Senate for the
"I am so thankful for the children of Kentucky," Kerr said
after the vote. "This is a bill that puts us as Kentuckians ahead
of the curve and we will be a national model."
The proposal would ban soft-drink sales to elementary school pupils
during the school day. It also would let the state Board of Education
set nutritional standards for food sold in vending machines and in a
la carte lines in elementary and secondary schools. Also, the state
school board would regulate vending machine drinks sold in middle and
The proposal also would limit schools to offering retail fast foods
just once a week.
It also would require the certification of school food service directors.
Schools would have to report to parents annually on nutrition standards
and the amount of physical activity for youngsters.
TOP OF PAGE
Md. teen protests
foreign language Pledge
MILLERSVILLE, Md. -- A ninth-grader is protesting his school's decision
to broadcast the Pledge of Allegiance in foreign languages as part of
National Foreign Language Week.
Patrick Linton said he and other students at Old Mill High School sat
down rather than stand Wednesday when the Pledge was read over the school's
public address system in Russian. Linton's teacher told him if he had
a problem he should leave the room.
He did, and did not plan to return this week.
"This is America, and we got soldiers at war," the 15-year-old
said. "When you're saying the Pledge in a different language which
nobody understands, that's not OK."
Charles Linton, Patrick's father, said the use of other languages is
disrespectful to the country. "It's like wearing a cross upside
down in a church," he said.
The pledge was to be read in Spanish, French, Latin, Russian and German.
School officials said the activity will continue, with the English version
of the Pledge being read first for the rest of the week.
"This is just a way to connect what's going on in the classroom
and this daily activity where we say the Pledge of Allegiance,"
said Jonathan Brice, a spokesman for Anne Arundel County Public Schools.
TOP OF PAGE
FROM "EDUCATION WEEK"
Summit Fuels Push
to Improve High Schools
Money, Initiatives Pledged During Two-Day Event
By Lynn Olson, 3/9/05
Washington - The nation’s governors adjourned their two-day summit on
high schools armed with an expanded arsenal of political and financial
commitments to prepare all students for success in college and the workplace.
But despite the enthusiastic launch of two major initiatives at the
Feb. 26-27 meeting here, observers cautioned that improving American
high schools is a long, arduous task that will likely fail unless policymakers
can convince large sectors of the public that change is actually needed.
In one of the summit’s highlights, six philanthropies, including the
Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, announced a $42 million initiative
to help states raise high school graduation and college-readiness rates.
Thirteen states, which educate more than a third of U.S. students, also
joined a new coalition committed to transforming high schools by raising
standards, redesigning curricula, and tying high school tests and accountability
systems to the knowledge and skills needed for life after high school.
“We are united in our conviction that high schools must be targeted
for comprehensive reform and sustained change,” Virginia Gov. Mark Warner,
a Democrat and the chairman of the National Governors Association, told
the gathering of governors, policymakers, educators, and business leaders
from 45 states and territories. “I think we’re at that moment in time
when progress can and should be made.”
That view was echoed by many people during and after the event. They
said that now may be the golden opportunity to tackle an institution
long impervious to change.
But educators also said that simply raising standards and demanding
more of students would not produce the radical redesign of high schools
called for by the summit’s keynote speaker, Microsoft Corp. Chairman
“America’s high schools are obsolete,” Mr. Gates declared in his address,
calling them “the wrong tool for the times.”
To address Mr. Gates’ concerns, educators said, governors must be willing
to tackle such tough issues as teacher preparation and working conditions,
student engagement, school organization and structure, and support for
students to accelerate their learning. While all of those issues were
discussed during the summit—and in an “action agenda” released by the
meeting’s co-sponsors, the NGA and the Washington-based Achieve Inc.,
just before the event—observers are waiting to see whether the governors
follow through on those ideas back home.
“More rigor and academic preparation is a good thing,” said Tony Monfiletto,
the founder of Amy Diehl High School in Albuquerque, N.M., a 210-student
charter school, who watched parts of the summit on C-SPAN. “One of the
things that I found missing, at least, is that there’s a whole system
of support that needs to go along with these new standards.”
“We have been through years of ever-increasing standards and testing,”
said Larry Rosenstock, the chief executive officer of the San Diego-based
High Tech High, who agreed with Mr. Gates that high schools must be
totally rethought. Invoking a Chinese philosopher of the 6th century
B.C., Mr. Rosenstock continued: “As LaoTzu said, insanity is doing the
same thing in the same way and expecting different results.”
Preparing for What’s Next
One of the themes stressed during the summit was a need to connect high
school curricula, standards, and tests with the knowledge and skills
needed to succeed in college and careers.
Before leaving town, governors from 13 states announced that they had
joined with Achieve to form a coalition, the American Diploma Project
Network, aimed at pursuing that agenda back home. The states involved
are: Arkansas, Georgia, Indiana, Kentucky, Louisiana, Massachusetts,
Michigan, New Jersey, Ohio, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, and
Those states, and any others that join the coalition, commit to: aligning
high school standards and tests with the knowledge and skills needed
to succeed in postsecondary education and work; requiring all students
to take a college- and work-ready curriculum to earn a diploma; giving
all high school students a test that measures their readiness for work
and college; and holding high schools accountable for graduating students
who are college-ready, and postsecondary institutions accountable for
the success of the students they enroll.
“We’re not telling states they have to have high-stakes tests,” said
Michael Cohen, the president of Achieve, a nonprofit group formed by
governors and business leaders to promote standards-based education.
States that have agreed to the policy principles “are each going to
do it in their own way,” he said. “This is not a one-size-fits-all.”
Anne McKernan, the acting principal of the Metropolitan Learning Center
Interdistrict Magnet School for Global and International Studies, in
Bloomfield, Conn., agreed that if states could align their high school
tests with college-admissions and -placement decisions, “we would have
a lot of leverage with our students, in terms of the importance of those
tests, and why they need to be fully prepared.”
“If the governors can get higher education to work with state departments
of education on high schools, I think it would be a powerful thing,”
she said, in reaction to the summit. “I don’t know who else this could
even come from, except the legislature or the governors.”
But those at the summit admitted that bridging secondary and postsecondary
education is easier said than done. “These are hard efforts to get started,”
said Thomas Layzell, the president of Kentucky’s Council on Postsecondary
Education, which oversees change and improvement in the state’s higher
education system. “They’re hard to sustain. There’s a lot of inertia
in the system.”
Lucille Davy, the special counsel for education to acting Gov. Richard
J. Codey of New Jersey, a Democrat, said, “I think the network will
give us an opportunity to learn from each other.” She also suggested
that states may have more leverage to change higher education if they
Susan Tave Zelman, the state superintendent of education in Ohio, said
her state hopes to work with others in the network to develop a college-
and workplace-readiness test that students could take in high school.
Over the next few months, each state in the network is expected to draft
a specific plan and timetable for pursuing the American Diploma Project’s
Within the next 45 days, the NGA’s Center for Best Practices also plans
to release criteria for states to apply for $21 million in grant money
to help redesign high schools. The NGA expects to announce the grant
recipients, which must match the awards dollar for dollar, at the governors’
annual summer meeting in Des Moines, Iowa, in August.
Combined with the American Diploma Project Network, “the two announcements
are really quite extraordinary,” said Tom Vander Ark, the executive
director of education at the Seattle-based Gates Foundation.
He predicted that, as a result, more than half the states would end
up working with the NGA and Achieve on high school redesign.
“The work that’s going to come out of this is technical and political,”
Mr. Vander Ark said, “and we want to make sure that states have the
resources to do this right and to build support for higher expectations.”
The other foundations joining the effort are the Michael & Susan
Dell Foundation, the Carnegie Corporation of New York, the Wallace Foundation,
the Prudential Foundation, and the State Farm Foundation.
But while governors and business leaders here stressed what they see
as the economic imperative to raise standards in order to compete with
such countries as China and India, most acknowledged they have yet to
convince the public that there is a crisis in high school education,
or that all students need college-ready skills.
“There are big elements of the public where we have a culture of educational
complacency,” Gov. Tim Pawlenty of Minnesota, a Republican, said during
one of the summit’s breakout sessions. “With the exception of communities
where there is obvious or great distress, there is not a sense of crisis.”
Business leaders could be particularly helpful in carrying forth that
message, suggested Art Ryan, the chairman and chief executive officer
of Prudential Financial, based in Newark, N.J., and a co-chairman of
Achieve. “The business community now understands that we have some work
to do as well,” he said. “We need to take the message and create a sense
of urgency. In many ways, the summit is just the beginning.”
Others said that simply aligning standards and assessments at the state
and district levels wouldn’t make much difference without a significant
investment in teachers and principals and their knowledge base.
“It doesn’t help to have great standards if a teacher doesn’t know what
to do with them,” Roy Romer, the superintendent of the Los Angeles school
district and a former governor of Colorado, said during a breakout session
at the conference.
That view was echoed last week by educators.
“Everybody is pretty much in agreement that high schools need to be
restructured,” said Deborah J. Jervis, one of the few teachers invited
to attend the summit. Ms. Jervis, who is the chairwoman of the mathematics
department at Coventry High School in Coventry, R.I., added that “it’s
impossible to do it without support from the top down,” including the
proper resources, time for teachers to plan together and collaborate,
and professional development for teachers.
But educators stressed that such recommendations require that governors
and legislators put some money behind their rhetoric.
“Obviously, it’s wonderful for governors to be paying attention to high
schools,” Linda F. Nathan, the headmaster of the public Boston Arts
Academy, said in an interview after the summit. But she added: “There’s
a huge gap, I think, between paying attention and funding mandates.”
Speaking during a press conference at the summit, Virginia’s Gov. Warner
said that “the initiatives that we’re talking about are not simply about
“It takes not only resources,” he said, “but a will to bring a whole
lot of people to the table who haven’t necessarily worked together in
That’s not to say, though, that the governors wouldn’t welcome a little
help from Washington.
Speaking at the summit, U.S. Secretary of Education Margaret Spellings
outlined the details of President Bush’s proposed $1.5 billion High
School Initiative. “I believe the president’s budget will help you achieve
these goals we all share,” she said. Immediately following the summit,
the governors convened for their midwinter meeting, where they adopted
a resolution spelling out exactly what they hope to see from the federal
government by way of support for high school improvement.
In general, the resolution urges Washington to decrease burdensome reporting
requirements and mandates, and let governors take the lead when it comes
to the specifics of state education policy.
TOP OF PAGE
‘First Things First’
Shows Promising Results
By Caroline Hendrie, 3/9/05
Kansas City, Kan. - When James P. Connell arrived here nine years ago
peddling a school improvement model he called First Things First, plenty
of people wished he’d head back home.
“First Things First came in and I thought, ‘More of the same,’ ” recalled
Robert Bayer, an assistant principal at the city’s 1,125-student Wyandotte
High School. “I didn’t want any part of it.”
Eventually, Mr. Bayer and many other educators in this 20,000-student
school system changed their minds. As the district gradually restructured
all five of its high schools into small learning communities using Mr.
Connell’s model, feelings grew that the developmental psychologist from
Philadelphia just might be on to something.
Now, at a time when high schools have risen to the top of the nation’s
education agenda, this hardscrabble city is piquing the interest of
educators searching for models.
No one is calling it a miracle, but the Kansas City, Kan., district’s
experience with First Things First—with backing from the Ewing Marion
Kauffman Foundation—is offering hope that the redesign of urban high
schools is not a lost cause.
In his speech to the nation’s governors at last month’s summit on high
schools, Microsoft Chairman Bill Gates placed the district first on
a short list of examples that he said provide “mounting evidence” that
redesigning high schools can work to improve graduation rates and prepare
students for college, work, and citizenship.
“It appears to be the best model for improving existing high schools
out there,” said Tom Vander Ark, the executive director of education
for the Seattle-based Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, a major national
supporter of smaller, more academically engaging high schools.
While perhaps not everyone would go that far, the district’s progress
under First Things First stands out when viewed against the disappointing
results often yielded by attempts to carve high schools into smaller
units. The gains have come in an urban system in which nearly four of
every five students are nonwhite, and three out of four qualify for
federally subsidized school meals—a profile that typically correlates
with subpar achievement.
Attendance is up, and as Mr. Gates pointed out in his Feb. 26 speech,
the graduation rate for the district’s four nonselective high schools
climbed from 48 percent in 2000 to 78 percent last year. Reading scores
in high schools have risen, though they are not stellar. Test results
have edged up only slightly in mathematics in the high schools, however,
a trouble spot that local officials attribute partly to an initial focus
“It’s been a struggle,” Superintendent Ray Daniels told a group of 70
educators from seven districts who visited last month for a closer look.
“But we’re really beginning to see the results.”
To Andy Tompkins, the Kansas commissioner of education, the district’s
story is one that educators elsewhere should hear. “They’ve made tremendous
progress, and they’ve got a long way to go,” he said of the Kansas City
schools. “And they’d be the first to tell you that.”
Kicking the Tires
A former tenured professor of psychology at the University of Rochester
in New York, Mr. Connell came on the scene here shortly after leaving
academia to focus on a nonprofit school improvement organization he
had formed called the Institute for Research and Reform in Education.
The IRRE has received major grants over the years from the U.S. Department
of Education; $2.8 million from the Kansas City, Mo.-based Kauffman
Foundation for its work here; and a recent commitment of $3.8 million
from the Gates Foundation to scale up.
The institute is now working in Houston, New Orleans, and across the
river from here in Missouri’s Kansas City. Other locales using its model
or planning to do so include Norristown, Pa.; Sarasota, Fla.; Riverview
Gardens, Mo.; and the Mississippi school districts of Greenville and
Kansas City, Kan., was the first and only district to put First Things
First in place in all its schools. So for Mr. Connell, this district
is where interested educators come to “kick the tires of First Things
The model has three pillars for the high school level: small, themed
learning communities that each keep a group of students together throughout
grades 9-12; a “family advocate” system that pairs teachers with 15
to 17 students over four years; and a heavy emphasis on instructional
High school learning communities have no more than 325 students, and
in many cases are smaller. At Wyandotte High, the first here to implement
First Things First, the eight small learning communities each average
around 170 students, who take all their core academic subjects within
Besides strengthening relationships between students and teachers, the
structure is designed to broaden the roles of faculty members, heighten
their collaboration, and promote a sense of collective responsibility
for students’ success.
“We have asked our staff to do so much,” Superintendent Daniels remarked.
“I keep wondering when they’re going to say, ‘That’s it; go to hell;
we’re not doing any more.’ ”
Within each SLC, teachers typically handle all but the most grievous
student-discipline matters. Faculty members also decide how to allocate
money and time, and play a big role in filling staff vacancies.
Teachers have common planning periods each day and two hours of professional-development
time every Wednesday, when students are sent home early. District leaders
see those hours as critical.
“It is a gift from our community, a true gift that we treasure and that
we are very careful not to abuse,” said Steve Gering,the district’s
executive director of instruction for secondary schools.
Cassandra Kincaid, a social studies teacher at Wyandotte High, said
teachers in her SLC gather in one another’s classrooms on Wednesday
afternoons to test-drive teaching strategies aimed at snaring students’
interest. “We give feedback on how engaging it is,” she said of a new
teaching approach. “If we start talking and we’re bored, that’s a good
sign that the kids will be, too.”
Initially, the tenets of First Things First were fuzzier than they are
now. So the district became a testing ground for concepts that the IRRE
revised over time—sometimes to the frustration of local educators.
At first, IRRE did not require small learning communities that keep
students together over all four years of high school. So some schools
started out with 9th grade academies, moving students to theme-based
SLCs for the upper grades. But IRRE and district leaders soon concluded
that the academies were not raising graduation rates.
Another feature of First Things First that evolved is its family-advocacy
system, which was piloted in 2001 and fully phased in this school year.
Under the system, teachers are designated as advocates for groups of
15 to 17 students, for whom they remain responsible for four years.
Advocates meet for at least an hour a week with their groups, and are
supposed to hold private conversations with each student for at least
five minutes. And they are to get in touch with students’ families monthly
and meet with them in person twice a year.
The idea was not an instant hit, and with some, it still isn’t.
“There are some SLCs that haven’t bought in,” said Traci Burks, a special
education teacher at Wyandotte High.
But others say the system works well. For teachers, having designated
advocates who know students well and keep in touch with their families
can be a big help when concerns arise about students’ performance. And
students say the system helps them feel like more than just faces in
Armon Williams, a senior at Wyandotte High who has diabetes, said he
realized that his teacher-advocate, Ms. Kincaid, really cared for him
a few years ago when she walked him to the cafeteria to get a snack
after his blood sugar had dropped dangerously low.
“Another teacher would have just given me a pass and had me go down
on my own,” he said. “There’s no guarantee I would have made it.”
Officials here decided early on to use First Things First in all the
district’s schools, a focus they say has contributed strongly to their
success. Mr. Connell also stresses that leadership and support from
the central office here has been critical.
Yet he insists that districts can succeed by adopting First Things First
in only their high schools. Indeed, for the past five years, the IRRE
has concentrated mainly on secondary schools, and most of the districts
now interested in adopting the model share that focus.
“I think K-12 is the best way to go, but it’s not the only way,” Mr.
Connell said. “The high schools are the heart of the community, and
if you get all the high schools, you’ve got district reform.”
Local school officials say they have been greatly helped by outside
support, principally the $10.6 million that the Kauffman Foundation
has given the district to support First Things First since 1996. But
they say that the district has shown a matching commitment by shifting
people and resources around, including redeploying curriculum coordinators
from the central office to work directly with teachers on instruction
Managing resistance from staff members has been challenging all along,
officials here say.
“Teachers ran Connell out of the building a couple of times, literally
screaming at him,” Mr. Gering said.
Getting on Board
Still, the teachers’ union, an affiliate of the National Education Association,
got on board when it counted, administrators say.
“There was a lot of skepticism, quite a bit of mistrust,” said Linda
Hollinshed, the president of the NEA-Kansas City, Kan. At first, she
said, the union was miffed that it hadn’t been consulted before the
district decided to go with First Things First. But that attitude started
shifting after the district held a retreat for the union’s building-level
representatives—a gathering where alarming student-performance data
were laid out.
“Our students weren’t graduating from our schools at the levels we wanted,
and the state test scores were low,” Ms. Hollinshed said. “The question
became, ‘So if not this reform, what next?’ ”
In the years since, implementation of First Things First has been uneven
across the district. Some observers caution that what role the model
played in the district’s improvements is not entirely clear. Leaders
of the Kauffman Foundation, for example, say they still have unanswered
But on the whole, an evaluation released last month concludes that the
effort has had a positive impact at the high school level on graduation
rates, attendance, student engagement, and test scores.
On the attendance front, just 20 percent of students had no more than
one unexcused absence per month in the year before each high school
put the model in place. After three years, 40 percent met that standard,
said Michelle Alberti Gambone, the lead researcher on the evaluation,
conducted by the Philadelphia-based Youth Development Strategies with
partial funding from the Kauffman Foundation.
On the Kansas State Assessments, the district has seen sizable math
gains in elementary and middle schools. But the proportion of high school
students who scored at the proficient level or better merely inched
up, from 14 percent in 2000-01 to 16 percent in 2003-04.
In reading, the high school gains have been better, though still not
on a par with those in the lower grades. From 2000-01 to 2003-04, students
rated as proficient rose from 25 percent to 40 percent.
District leaders and Mr. Connell say they are far from satisfied with
those figures. Still, they are heartened by the progress, and attribute
much of it to sticking with the program over time.
“For the first couple of years, there weren’t changes in student performance,
and that’s when most reforms die,” Mr. Gering said. “We were so close
to having it die so many times.”
The district is now at a turning point. Funding from the Kauffman Foundation
is winding down, and Superintendent Daniels will retire this summer.
Jill Shackleford, a deputy to Mr. Daniels who is moving up to the top
spot, said the coming transition has triggered some “shakiness” among
staff members, who have wondered whether she means it when she promises
to stay the course with First Things First.
Her message to them is yes. “It is working—better in some places than
others—but it’s just the way we do business now,” she said. “We’ve got
too much invested in it to not make it.”
TOP OF PAGE
Texas Stands Behind
Own Testing Rule
Move Puts State at Odds With NCLB Policy
By David J. Hoff, 3/9/05
Faced with a conflict between state and federal laws, Texas officials
have come down on the side of their own law and set up a possible showdown
with the U.S. government over millions of dollars in education aid.
In determining which schools and districts were meeting annual goals
under the federal No Child Left Behind Act, the state last month granted
a host of appeals from districts and schools that said they should get
credit for following less stringent state rules for assessing special
As a result, 431 districts and 1,312 schools were considered by Texas
to be making adequate yearly progress, or AYP, even though they didn’t
follow the federal law’s strict rules for counting the test scores of
students with disabilities.
“There was simply no way that schools could have followed [federal rules]
without violating state statutory requirements,” said Criss Cloudt,
the associate commissioner for accountability and data quality for the
Texas Education Agency.
States will be watching how the U.S. Department of Education reacts
to the Texas decision and whether it withholds any of Texas’ $1 billion
annual share from the No Child Left Behind Act.
“If [federal officials] do anything to grant Texas this, it could open
the floodgates around the country,” said Scott Young, a senior policy
specialist for the National Conference of State Legislatures.
A U.S. Department of Education spokeswoman said last week that the federal
officials haven’t decided how to respond to Texas’ action.
“We’re reviewing the information we currently have and will be talking
to them to get a better grasp of what they’re doing,” Susan Aspey, a
department spokeswoman said in an e-mail.
Federalism in Question
As state officials nationwide have faced carrying out the 3-year-old
law, they have chafed at complying with federal requirements that conflict
with their state laws. A proposed measure in Utah, for instance, calls
for letting state laws trump the federal law.
Two days before the Texas announcement, the Denver-based NCSL issued
a report saying the law championed by President Bush unfairly usurps
state policies. The group listed changes it wants from Congress and
the federal Education Department. ("NCLB Law Needs Work, Legislators
Assert," Feb. 24, 2005.) State officials also have been seeking
waivers from Margaret Spellings, who was sworn in as the U.S. secretary
of education in January.
While Secretary Spelling has said she would consider granting states
leeway on the rules for compliance with the law, she has said she won’t
bend on its key requirements.
Last week, for example, she denied a request from Connecticut to waive
the law’s requirement that students be tested in grades 3-8 and once
in high school. The state had asked to continue its practice of assessing
students in grades 4, 6, 8, and 10.
“We must measure annually and in each grade to determine if these [achievement]
gaps are being closed, and, if they are not, adjustments must be made,”
Ms. Spellings said in a Feb. 28 letter to Connecticut’s commissioner
of education, Betty J. Sternberg.
Ms. Spelling added that the Education Department is “committed to including
every student in the assessment and accountability system,” citing the
federal rule that Texas officials overrode in making its AYP decisions.
The federal testing rule says that 1 percent of a school’s or district’s
enrollment may be tested against other than their grade-level standards
and still be considered proficient for accountability purposes.
Any students above the 1 percent figure who don’t take state or alternative
tests for the grade level in which they are enrolled are to be considered
as not proficient for purposes of determining AYP.
State officials argue that the 1 percent rule is unfair because special
education students aren’t always equally distributed across districts
or among schools, Mr. Young of the NCSL said.
In Texas’ case, local school officials followed state law allowing for
alternative tests for special education students when the students’
individualized education programs call for them. Under state law, the
IEP team, rather than the state, gets to set a student’s passing standard
for such tests.
In the spring of 2004, almost 10 percent of all students took a state-approved
alternative test instead of the Texas Assessment of Knowledge and Skills,
Texas officials also point out that the federal Education Department
didn’t make the so-called 1 percent rule final until December 2003,
just two months before Texas began testing. “You just can’t turn the
ship that quickly,” said Gene Lenz, the deputy associate commissioner
for special programs, monitoring, and interventions for the Texas Education
In deciding which districts and
schools made adequate yearly progress for the 2003-04 school year, Texas
Commissioner of Education Shirley Neeley granted appeals to districts
and schools that said their special education populations failed to
reach the districts’ achievement targets solely because of the 1 percent
After the appeals, 86 districts failed to make AYP. Without the appeals,
almost half the state’s 1,227 districts would have fallen short of the
AYP goals. Without the waivers, 1,718 of the state’s 7,813 schools,
or 22 percent, wouldn’t have made AYP. With the waivers, all but 402
The Texas decision is at odds with the basic tenet of the No Child Left
Behind Act, according to a supporter of the federal law.
“That’s a real step backward to say they have an alternative test and
they’re not going to count [students with disabilities] for AYP,” said
Delia Pompa, the director of the Achievement Alliance, a Washington-based
coalition that supports the No Child Left Behind Act.
Ms. Cloudt said the agency was working with state legislators to revise
state law. “Our goals are identical to No Child Left Behind,” she said.
“We’re trying very hard to implement policies in concert with the federal
TOP OF PAGE
Anti-War Effort Fuels Web Rumors
By Catherine Gewertz, 3/9/05
A misunderstanding about students’ rights to express their opposition
to military recruiters at their Minnesota high school sparked a flurry
of accusations that spilled onto the Internet, generating a slew of
angry phone calls from across the country.
The situation was resolved when the superintendent of the Bloomington,
Minn., school district assured students they had the right to set up
a table in the main hallway of Kennedy High School, near a table set
up by military recruiters who visit periodically.
But for a few days last month, the students’ situation became a minor
cause celebre, generating stories by the local news media and postings
on Web sites, including that of the filmmaker Michael Moore. Those posts
accused the district of silencing the student club, Youth Against War
and Racism, under pressure from veterans from a local American Legion
That wasn’t exactly accurate. But it didn’t protect Gary Prest, the
superintendent of the 11,000-student district south of Minneapolis,
from being swamped with phone calls from Boston, Seattle, and points
“One of [the callers] called me a blankety-blank fascist,” he said last
week. “One person said he was going to take me down.”
The problem began Feb. 22, when members of Youth Against War and Racism
prepared to put up a table, as they had done in December, with anti-war
literature and a petition asking the school not to allow military recruiters
at Kennedy High, said Brandon Madsen, a senior who helped organize the
The group’s faculty adviser told the students they couldn’t set up their
table because members of the local chapter of the American Legion, a
national veterans’ community-service group, had threatened to withdraw
the support they give the school district, such as fund raising. Mr.
Madsen said students decided to go ahead anyway.
They distributed fliers the next morning that urged students to call
the principal and the superintendent to protest the denial of free-speech
rights, Mr. Madsen said. Students in the organization used connections
with other political groups to get their “urgent solidarity appeal,”
saying the school was being “blackmailed” by the American Legion, posted
on several Web sites.
Principal Ronald Simmons came by their table on Feb. 23 and instructed
them to dismantle it and began to remove some of their materials, Mr.
Madsen said. The principal, who did not return calls seeking comment,
offered the students a chance to meet with the superintendent.
Mr. Prest said he explained to the students that the district permits
them to distribute literature expressing their political views, but
that the policy hadn’t been sufficiently clear, or consistently applied.
He assured them they could set up their table.
Once the students left, however, Mr. Prest spent a lot of time on the
phone, trying to correct inaccuracies in the Web postings, including
the statement that the American Legion had urged administrators to “shut
down” the student club.
Several members of the Bloomington American Legion post were concerned
that Kennedy High was distributing anti-war fliers to students, because
one flier said it had received school approval. No such approval had
been given, Mr. Prest said, but students do not need approval to distribute
“The way it came to me is that my secretary said that if these materials
are being distributed by the school, they were going to be considering
withdrawing their support,” Mr. Prest said, referring to the American
Legion post. “But that's not a factor in any decision I'd make about
The post’s commander assured Mr. Prest that the veterans’ group did
not intend to threaten the district, and the situation was resolved,
Mr. Prest said.
Patty Gustner, the post’s general manager, said the situation “got blown
out of proportion.”
“We’re all for freedom of speech,” she said. “That’s what most of the
guys here fought for.”
Mr. Madsen said the incident shows how students can stand up for their
rights and win. Mr. Prest saw a different lesson in it.
“It shows you how fast information travels on the Internet these days,”
he said, “and that what people read on the Internet, they believe, without
checking it out any further.”
TOP OF PAGE
Calif. School Workers
Compete to Lose Weight
Goals Include Changing Lifestyles and Trimming Health-Care
By Linda Jacobson, 3/9/05
In what sounds like a script for the latest reality-TV show, 200 teachers,
administrators, and other school employees working in San Diego County,
Calif., have accepted a challenge to achieve personal weight-loss goals
over the next year.
Employees from 11 districts in the county are taking part in this first
phase of the competition, which is sponsored and organized by the Southern
California Schools Voluntary Employee Benefits Association, or VEBA,
a labor and management purchasing pool for health-care services.
Participants, who had their first official weigh-in last week, will
be organized into 40 groups of five. They will receive personal support
from one another as well as from a “care coordinator.” They will also
have access to an extensive variety of diet, nutrition, and exercise
resources designed to help them reach their goals.
The objective goes beyond just a number on a scale, says George McGregor,
the administrator of the VEBA plan. “It’s that you learn how to exercise,
that you learn how to cook,” and incorporate those changes into a lifestyle,
At a time when obesity among adults in the United States has become
a leading but generally preventable health problem, the initiative was
also launched as a way to slow down spiraling health-care costs.
And while schools across the country have instituted programs designed
to prevent and curb obesity among children, the San Diego County program
targets those who often serve as role models for students.
The employee-benefits association estimates that for every 10 pounds
the participants lose, $500 in health-care expenses will be saved. If
each person involved in the program loses at least that much weight,
the savings will reach $100,000.
Setting an Example
A U.S. Surgeon General’s report from 2003 found that health expenses
related to obesity reached $117 billion nationally in 2000 and were
expected to continue rising. An astounding 64.5 percent of adult Americans
are considered overweight or obese, a problem that began increasing
in the 1960s and has not abated, according to the American Obesity Association.
The average age of the educators and other school staff members who
volunteered for the contest—which VEBA hopes will serve as an example
to districts throughout California—is 45, and the average weight is
235 pounds with a body-mass index of 40. Experts say that when BMI—a
formula that adjusts weight for height—is greater than 30, the relative
risk of death related to being overweight increases by 50 percent.
Built into the program are incentives and rewards, such as gift certificates
to an online health-products store and the ultimate prize of a two-night
stay at a luxury resort for the team that loses the most weight. The
second-place team will get sundry gift certificates.
Those who stay in the competition will get rewards for meeting personal
quarterly goals and when they complete the program.
The lion’s share of the participants, 84 percent, are women. Asthma,
diabetes, and concerns about cancer were a few of the reasons the participants
cited for wanting to join the endeavor.
Mary-Allegra McKinnell, a 2nd grade teacher at Central Elementary School
in National City, Calif., says she joined in hopes of fitting into her
“skinny” clothes again, getting in good shape to have a baby in a few
years, and building stronger partnerships with her co-workers.
But the 29-year-old is also hoping that her experience will benefit
her students, and that the whole class will learn about healthier eating
and exercise habits. She’s encouraged by the recent addition of a new
physical education program at the school that allows her to get exercise
with her students.
“I let them know that I’m going to be watching what I eat better,” Ms.
McKinnell said. “They need to help keep me honest with my program.”
Another participant, Jackie Osborne, sees the obesity problem from both
personal and professional angles. As a human-resources manager for the
San Diego Community College District in Chula Vista, Calif., Ms. Osborne
and her co-workers felt that a weight-loss and -management program would
be a more effective way to control costs than offering the more common
smoking-cessation or diabetes-prevention programs.
But at 215 pounds, and overweight her whole life, Ms. Osborne is also
looking forward to how this venture can change her life. At 53, she
has had two knee surgeries and was growing more concerned about the
hazards caused by being overweight.
“I am participating in this program because I am really concerned about
the health risks of my weight, and I know I need to take drastic action
and make some changes before I get any older,” she wrote in a testimonial
for the program. “I know this program will work for me because they
are really forcing us to stop living in isolation and put ourselves
out there. My slogan for the year is ‘moving forward’ so I can’t slack
off this year.”
At the end of the one-year program, Ms. Osborne hopes to have lost 10
percent of her weight, and eventually bring it down to 145.
Judith Stern, a professor of nutrition at the University of California,
Davis, and the vice president of the Washington-based American Obesity
Association, said the initiative has the potential to benefit both the
school workers and students if the adults set realistic weight-loss
goals. Other measures of overall health, such as lowering blood pressure,
should also be emphasized, she said.
‘Keeping It Off’
“What I would like to see is an understanding that obesity is very complex,”
Ms. Stern said. “You also need continued support. The challenge is keeping
Mr. McGregor agreed, and said the true test of the effort won’t be seen
next March 1, when the participants see what they’ve achieved with the
help of their teams and their counselors. Instead, he said, it will
be in two years, when the employee-benefits association checks back
to see whether the original group is maintaining a healthier lifestyle.
Many more people were interested in joining the program than VEBA was
able to accommodate in the pilot phase, Mr. McGregor added. But he hopes
to be able to expand it even before the pilot ends.
“If we can demonstrate that this works, and there’s no reason to think
that it won’t,” he said, “then we’ll roll out a different group of 200
TOP OF PAGE
Tracks Growth in Distance Learning
By Vaishali Honawar, 3/9/05
Students in one-third of the nation’s public school districts took distance
education courses in the 2002-03 school year, illustrating such classes’
growing popularity, says a report released last week by the National
Center for Education Statistics.
The report—which the NCES says is the federal government’s first-ever
survey of distance learning in K-12 schools—found thousands of students
enrolled in courses that are conducted via the Internet or through video-
or audio-conferencing, with the teacher and student in separate places.
Nearly one of every 10 public schools in the country had students enrolled
in such courses, the survey found.
Susan Patrick, the director of the U.S. Department of Education’s office
of educational technology, said the survey points to a “huge growth”
in the availability of online learning.
“We expect the growth to continue, consistent with the growth in higher
education distance education,” she added.
Responses to surveys that the NCES, an arm of the Education Department,
mailed to more than 2,300 school districts around the country indicated
that in 2002-03, there were an estimated 328,000 enrollments in distance
education courses among students regularly attending public schools.
Schools surveyed reported that they usually choose to offer courses
online because they are otherwise not available to students at school,
citing such examples as Advanced Placement courses. The report also
notes that the availability of distance education courses allows students
to reduce scheduling conflicts they might have with other courses or
According to the report, some school officials said they plan to expand
distance education offerings in the future, but expressed concerns about
the high costs of purchasing equipment and course development. School
district administrators were also concerned that they could lose per-pupil
funding from their states if students taking online courses offered
by other districts were not counted as part of the home district’s regular
While distance education has flourished in higher education—a past report
from the NCES found enrollment in distance education courses at postsecondary
institutions nearly doubled between the 1997-98 and 2000-01 school years—K-12
schools have been slow to catch up. But the NCES report suggests the
pace of expansion of distance education may be picking up in K-12.
Among other findings, the survey shows that distance-learning courses
were more popular in the Southeast and central regions of the country
than they were in the Northeast and the West.
In addition, rural districts had a higher proportion of students taking
online courses than urban and suburban districts—46 percent, compared
with 28 percent in suburban areas and 23 percent in urban areas.
Ms. Patrick, of the Education Department’s technology office, said distance
education courses have been particularly useful to schools in rural
areas. Such courses, she said, help provide rural areas with “highly
qualified” teachers, as is required under the No Child Left Behind Act.
They also give students more opportunities to take Advanced Placement
and college-level courses.
Ruth Adams, the dean of the nonprofit Virtual High School, a Maynard,
Mass.-based collaborative of more than 300 schools worldwide that share
courses and teachers online, said smaller districts have a limited number
of teachers, and historically do not have access to those who can teach
specialized subjects, such as Advanced Placement economics or some computational
Distance learning, she said, opens up such courses to students around
the country and even around the world.
“A student shouldn’t be limited to the type of course they can take
because of the ZIP code they live in,” said Ms. Adams, whose collaborative
now offers courses to more than 6,000 students in 26 states and 13 countries.
During the 1997-98 school year, it offered just 30 courses to 710 students.
Jump in Middle Grades?
Among schools with students who took distance-learning courses during
the 2002-03 school year, 76 percent were high schools, the report says.
Only 7 percent were middle or junior high schools, and 2 percent were
The remaining 15 percent were combined K-12 or ungraded schools, making
it difficult to discern their grade levels.
Ms. Adams pointed out that elementary school pupils usually cannot take
distance-learning courses because of limited reading and writing skills.
But she predicted a “phenomenal” growth of the courses for middle schools.
For instance, she said, her collaborative has designed classes that
will give middle school students an introduction to Advanced Placement
courses, preparing them to handle the more complicated subjects they
will face in high school.
“Our exploring classes,” she said, “are an introduction to subjects
that students would pursue in high school in greater depth.”
TOP OF PAGE
Delay Action on NCLB Bill
Meetings Between State, Federal Officials Precede Postponement
By Michelle R. Davis, 3/9/05
A nationally watched showdown between the U.S. Department of Education
and Utah state officials over the requirements of the No Child Left
Behind Act turned into a political soap opera last week.
The serial came down to a cliffhanger in the last days of the legislative
session when a final vote on a bill that calls for state education laws
to take priority over the federal law was postponed. Tune in to an April
20 special session for the outcome.
Meanwhile, observers should not mistake the delay for a truce between
Utah officials, who say the federal law is too invasive, and federal
officials, who say its requirements are essential to improving schools.
In fact, as the Utah legislative session ended March 2, some state leaders
seemed more dead set against the federal law than ever.
“There’s beginning to be this broad realization that this is not just
about how kids succeed … but about the federal takeover of schools,”
said Utah state Superintendent of Public Instruction Patti Harrington.
“The way you stop it is right now.”
‘No New Concessions’
The feud between Utah and the federal Department of Education began
last year, when state Rep. Margaret Dayton, a Republican, introduced
a bill to let Utah opt out of the law entirely, though it could have
cost the state $106 million in federal aid.
Under pressure from Washington, she ultimately shelved her proposal,
which she sees as an issue of states’ rights.
But the tireless lawmaker returned this year with a scaled-down version
that calls for the federal education law to take a back seat to state
measures. The bill says that schools should follow the federal law in
some instances, but only if there is federal money to pay for its requirements.
The measure had passed the House and was expected to be approved unanimously
by the Senate.
But that’s not what happened last week, as federal pressure apparently
again played a role in the latest turn of events.
Gov. Jon Huntsman Jr., a Republican, and Ms. Harrington had just returned
from a National Governors Association meeting in Washington when Mr.
Huntsman, on March 1, requested a delay on the vote and a special session.
It turns out that while he was in the nation’s capital, Gov. Huntsman
met with President Bush and Secretary of Education Margaret Spellings.
Separately, Ms. Harrington also met with other Education Department
Those meetings convinced the governor that he should ask state lawmakers
for more time to consider the Utah education bill, said Tim Bridgewater,
Mr. Huntsman’s education deputy, who also attended the NGA meeting.
“We can’t force the Department of Education to change, but if they’re
moving in that direction to reach some common ground, then we want to
work in good faith to that end,” Mr. Bridgewater said. He also cited
as a sign of federal officials’ willingness to allow Utah more flexibility
a decision last month in which the Education Department backed away
from a determination that Utah’s veteran elementary and early-childhood
teachers were not highly qualified.
Mr. Bridgewater cautioned, however, that “we’re giving them more time,
… but we’re not going to stop the process.”
Superintendent Harrington said that during discussions in Washington,
it appeared that federal officials were willing to be more flexible.
But on March 2, Utah education officials received a letter recapping
the Washington discussions. Ms. Harrington said it contained no new
“They sent a fax to us yesterday saying, ‘Here’s the flexibility we
now confirm,’ ” said Ms. Harrington who was appointed to the nonpartisan
post by the state school board. “But there’s nothing in it, no new concessions.”
Ms. Harrington said Utah officials would insist on enough flexibility
to use their state system, the Utah Performance Assessment System for
Students, or U-PASS, in place of the No Child Left Behind Act. For example,
the state system insists on a year’s worth of progress for each student
instead of the federal requirement that all students reach a certain
level regardless of their starting level of knowledge.
“Our state will determine how much involvement there will be in No Child
Left Behind, not the other way around,” she said.
Susan Aspey, a spokeswoman for the federal department, said progress
was being made. “The state leaders and the administration both share
the same goal—kids learning,” she wrote in a March 2 e-mail to Education
Week. “And NCLB is about eliminating the persistent achievement gap.”
But, she added: “Change can be difficult.”
The issue is causing turmoil within the ranks of the Utah’s GOP leadership,
which normally is inclined to support President Bush.
After being irked by the federal Department of Education’s letter and
some concerns about Gov. Huntsman’s press release calling for the special
session, some state senators were ready to join a coup.
“I no longer felt obligated to my commitment [to delay the vote] and
was going to push forward,” Republican Sen. Tom Hatch, the sponsor of
the bill in the Senate, said in an interview.
But after a GOP caucus March 2, Mr. Hatch said legislators agreed to
wait out of respect for a fellow Republican, Senate President John Valentine,
who had struck the deal with the governor on the special session.
Mr. Hatch said Washington should take note that the bill is not going
away. “If substantial progress has not been made by April 20, we will
have a special session and we will pass House Bill 135 in its entirety,”
State’s Stance Hit
Amid last week’s political intrigue, the Washington-based Education
Trust, which promotes raising student achievement and supports the No
Child Left Behind law, released a statement blasting Utah’s efforts
to buck the law.
The Education Trust cited lagging test scores for Utah’s minority groups,
particularly Latino and Native American students, and was critical of
the state’s teacher-qualifications system.
Utah has been “sort of celebrated for standing up to the big bad feds,
… but some of that has gotten untethered from reality,” Ross Weiner,
the organization’s policy director, said. He pointed out that the state
accountability plan, U-PASS, is not currently operating. Though the
U-PASS law is on the books, Utah officials are still setting up the
Utah’s schools chief, Ms. Harrington, said the criticism was an example
of Washington-style attacks. “The Department [of Education] has circled
their dogs and sent them after us,” she said.
TOP OF PAGE
The Virtual Stage
Arts teachers are integrating computer software with traditional
instruction in dance, music, theater, and visual arts to spark students'
By Kathleen Kennedy Manzo, 3/9/05
Raleigh, N.C. - Jacob Besigel shows off some impressive dance moves—extreme
twists, rapid spins, and skybound leaps—all by simply tapping his right
index finger. With the click of a computer mouse, the 8th grader straightens
the animated dancer he has created on-screen, adjusts his timing, adds
a deep lunge to the routine and begins the simulation again. As music
echoes through Jacob’s dance class at Moore Square Museums Magnet Middle
School here, the teenager continues to choreograph a “virtual” routine
that he’ll have to synchronize with a live performance on the dance
floor later in the school year.
At Moore Square—where educators are blending technology more heavily
into the teaching of arts and music than most other schools—even the
most inhibited students can “bust” a virtual move with grace and prowess
using a software program that allows them to build, pose, and animate
a figure—or group of figures—in time.
“You’re almost dancing with the computer,” says teacher Cindy Hoban,
a former professional dancer who introduced the students to the computerized
dance program, called Poser. Hoban, 52, uses the technology as a supplement
in her elective dance classes to familiarize her students with dance
concepts and genres, and to help them visualize moves, from basic to
The computer exercise draws giggles and gasps from students, many of
whom have only a casual interest in learning about dance. But even those
slouched in their seats begin to limber up and move closer to their
screens once they breathe life into the virtual dancer.
Hoban’s technical lesson comes after several weeks of traditional dance
instruction, in which students learn the art of movement in a mirrored
studio with slick wood floors and a ballet barre. Her 7th graders have
already begun to prepare customary dances for the school’s Chinese festival,
while 8th graders have been sampling the dance trends for the decades
of the 20th century.
The computer-based lesson—which takes place in the school’s technology
lab, where each student has a computer and Hoban can demonstrate the
application on a large screen at the front of class—is a precursor to
the projects the students will undertake this spring. In preparation
for a culminating recital, they will learn to integrate a live performance
with those of their virtual partners, which will flash on a screen on
the stage. Over the next several weeks, they will choreograph for themselves
a dance sequence that both complements and contrasts with the one they’ve
created for their virtual partners.
“I wanted to find out: Can dancers share the stage with technology?”
the petite, sprightly teacher says, explaining why she started using
the software in her classes several years ago.
Hoban is among a growing cadre of arts teachers far and wide tapping
into technology to bring innovation to their instruction and to spark
the interest and imagination of a generation of students drawn to technology.
But with budgetary and time constraints that threaten the arts’ place
in the school curriculum, experts say, most teachers of dance, music,
theater, and visual arts are struggling just to keep their existing
“You’d be hard-pressed to find many innovative programs and schools
[using art and technology in meaningful ways],” says Craig Roland, a
professor of art education at the University of Florida and an expert
on the use of digital and information technology in visual-arts instruction.
“They’re there, but they’re isolated . . . they are islands of excitement.”
Like their peers in other disciplines, teachers of the arts have generally
been slow to adopt new technologies, mostly because of a lack of training
and adequate equipment, says Roland.
But given technology’s long history in transforming the arts—the pottery
wheel, the printing press, and the camera were all new technologies
that met with reluctance and only slowly became standard tools for artists—Roland
predicts that more teachers will eventually embrace the new methods.
There are, however, a number of challenges for doing so effectively,
says Roland, whose book, The Art Teachers Guide to the Internet, is
set to be published this spring. Art teachers must first have adequate
equipment and access to it; they need time to teach students to use
the programs; technical support should be available to ensure teachers
and students can make the most of their time with the technology; and
teachers need professional development to find the best ways to use
computers and other equipment in their lessons.
But Roland cautions educators not to become so enamored of the bells
and whistles of the technology that the creation of real art or music
“For technology to really make a difference requires challenging curriculum
goals and really sound practices,” he says.
Arts teachers at Moore Square, which draws some 550 students from downtown
Raleigh and around North Carolina’s 108,000-student Wake County school
system, have been gradually trying to do just that. The 6th, 7th, and
8th graders cycle through the four areas of dance, music, theater, and
visual arts, getting traditional arts instruction supplemented by technology-based
In drama, for example, teacher Corrie Davis uses a Smart Board, a computerized
whiteboard that pulls images and information from the Internet, as well
as live video and the school curriculum, to present interactive lessons
for her students. Boys and girls in visual-arts classes can use computer-based
paint programs to create their own masterpieces or draft three-dimensional
drawings or multimedia pieces.
Meanwhile, in Bob Knight’s music classroom, students practice on electric
guitars, drums, and keyboards while classmates across the room arrange
their own music on desktop computers.
A software program called ACID Pro allows students to select sound clips
from libraries of music that are in the public domain, which can be
used without paying royalties. They can arrange sounds from a variety
of instruments or human vocals, add elements such as clapping hands
or animal noises, stretch the sounds, change the pitch or loudness,
and then arrange all the sounds together.
“The students learn a lot about how music is put together,” says Knight.
“They are making all the same decisions that an arranger would … and
at the same time, they are loving it.”
Advanced students in Knight’s classes can compose music on a keyboard
while a computer records the notations on-screen. That work can then
be printed as real sheet music.
Through technology, Knight says, students learn how to apply music theory,
and even a novice can make music before he or she learns how to play
“With the traditional way of learning an instrument, students study
for years and years to master the instrument, and then they are reproducing
someone else’s music,” Knight says. “With this approach…the creative
side of music is something they don’t have to wait for.”
But while similar technology has become commonplace in the arts industry,
its growing use has sparked controversy among professional musicians,
many of whom have lost their jobs as theaters phase out big orchestral
productions in favor of electronic presentations. And Knight agrees
that the ease and accessibility of computerized music can also be cause
for caution in using technology with students who have not learned the
basics of playing an instrument.
“I’m a big proponent for not losing the artistry of playing the traditional
instrument,” he says. Most of his students at Moore Square, which does
not have a band or orchestra program, have had limited exposure to music
until now. “But I do see where the technology will extend out to more
people the opportunity to create music on their own.”
For 6th grader Josh Ray, piecing together his own musical composition
has changed the way he hears music, whether he’s learning the piano
or listening to the radio.
“You can add different layers of sound, adjust the volume, remix the
elements,” Josh says as he works with classmate Alex Dancer. The two
search the ACID Pro libraries for music from different cultures, then
add an Indian beat that appears as a blue strip on the computer screen.
Next, they find the high-pitched croak of a tree frog. That sound, represented
by a green strip, is added to the next sequence. When finished, the
pair has arranged an eclectic array of rhythms and beats over a series
of musical selections.
“It really adds texture to the music and makes you aware of the different
sounds,” Alex says.
Technology has drawn more students into music education, suggests Tom
Rudolph, the president of the Technology Institute for Music Educators,
a Wyncote, Pa.-based organization that provides professional development
for teachers. In Pennsylvania’s Haverford Township School District,
where Rudolph is the director of music and a middle school teacher,
the addition of secondary school music-technology courses over the past
few years has boosted enrollment in music courses from 300 students
to over 1,400.
“When technology comes in, kids get more involved in the music program,
especially kids who elected not to play a band instrument,” says Rudolph,
who leads workshops on music technology for teachers around the country.
“The key to using technology is offering yet another experience to the
majority of kids who don’t take band, orchestra, or chorus.”
For the upcoming dance recital, Knight is planning to have his students
arrange music timed precisely to the animated dances created by their
peers in Hoban’s class. At least one show will be presented in the school
lobby, where four large screens hang in a recess in the ceiling. The
Poser animation will be projected on the screens, the music aired over
the school sound system, with the dancers performing underneath.
In Hoban’s class, students are experimenting with the editing tools
that allow them to shift and swivel body parts one at a time and record
them on an animation program to play back later in smooth motions. They
can change the standard male figure into a woman or a child, various
animals, skeletons, or box or wire shapes. Assorted features can be
added to give the figure personality, including facial expressions,
hair, clothing, shadows, and shading. Students can manipulate each body
part, string several moves together, and run the sequence as a video
In one of Hoban’s classes here in late January, 8th grader Christina
Boddie strikes a graceful pose, with toe pointed and outstretched arms,
while a classmate, Taylor Temple, maneuvers the Poser figure to mimic
the stance. Students around the room continue with similar exercises,
which help Hoban demonstrate the source of various dance movements.
“Do you see how when you extend your arm up like this,” Hoban instructs
Christina and Taylor, as the teacher raises a straight arm toward the
ceiling, “the movement comes from the shoulder?”
Students practice moving their computerized dancer into a plié, a basic
ballet move in which the knees are bent while the back is held up straight.
A click on the hips of the virtual dancer and a downward drag of the
mouse turns his legs in perfect ballet form. The savvy students quickly
progress to an arabesque, a pirouette, and eventually a floor-sliding
Later in the day, one group of 8th graders is already working on its
spring project, which features several clips they’ve made on Poser and
half a dozen live dancers in the foreground. Blaire Zachary and Hannah
Bowen remind their partners, Samantha Pernell and Clayton Ortiz, of
the sequence of moves they’ve designed to complement the figure on screen.
Trey Motley stands at the laptop computer, carefully timing the Poser
animation and changing the sequence for best effect for the group’s
piece, which the students have called Zero Gravity.
After experimenting with some contortions of the virtual dancer’s torso
and abnormal turns of his legs,the students eventually settle on more
natural moves—a shuffle of the feet, a deep bend of the knee, and a
modest angled jump. But the “dude,” as they call the computerized dancer,
morphs throughout the animation program, growing out of proportion,
his coat swallowing his upper body, before being transformed into an
“With Poser, you can see the comparison between when we do a dance and
what you see on the screen,” says Trey.
He has been rushing through his lunch some afternoons to spend time
working with the group. His initial passing interest in dance has become
a growing passion. “With Poser, it’s more than a dance,” Trey says.
“It’s a major creation.”
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