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State of Illinois - Governor Blagojevich 

News Clips

News Clips – March 18 – 25, 2005

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STATE  
Senate leader pushes 'tax swap' / State Journal-Register
'Holey' war Students suspended for wearing ripped jeans / Telegraph
First-grader hands out crack cocaine, thinking it was candy / Chicago Sun-Times
Schools watch for signs, add security / Pantagraph
Special-ed law made big cuts  / Chicago Tribune
Two agriculture funds may be targeted for surplus sweeps to fund education
Decatur Herald & Review

NATIONAL
Schools plan might shortchange the gifted /
St. Louis Post-Dispatch
State Stiffing City Schools Out of Fair Lottery-Pot Cut /
New York Post
Test scores fall sharply at scrutinized schools / Houston Chronicle
State to dissolve W-H school board / Dallas Morning News
Metro parents worry about safety of kids / Detroit News
More schools have groups for gays / St. Louis Post-Dispatch
Arnold wields clout on education rules / Washington Times
900 students walk out / Mercury News (CA)
States Worry About Meeting Requirements of Education Law / New York Times
Montgomery Schools' Ban On Fliers Backed by Court /
Washington Post
Columbine community reaches out / Denver Post

FROM “EDUCATION WEEK”
Spellings Hints at More Flexibility on NCLB
Progress Report on ‘No Child’ Law Shows Hits and Misses
Math Emerges as Big Hurdle for Teenagers
Federal Data Show Gains on Language

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STATE

Senate leader pushes 'tax swap'
Jones wants an increase in order to help public education
Mike Ramsey, Copley News Service/State Journal-Register, 3/19/05
 
CHICAGO - An Illinois legislative leader continued his crusade Friday for an income tax hike to benefit public education, while a newly revived panel that recommends how much the state should spend per pupil worked on its latest report.
 
Senate President Emil Jones, D-Chicago, told an audience in Chicago that he's not discouraged Gov. Rod Blagojevich has threatened to veto any general tax increases. Raising the individual income tax from 3 percent to 5 percent is central to legislation Jones backs that would funnel billions of dollars to K-12 education while reducing the tax burden on property owners.
 
Such a "tax swap" plan has been around for decades and is designed to make school funding more stable and equitable for poorer districts, but legislators consider the idea politically poisonous.
 
"I don't care where the governor stands. We are elected to lead," Jones said at the annual meeting of the advocacy group Voices for Illinois Children.
 
"Sure, we've got to raise the income tax and maybe some other taxes and get rid of the burden on the property tax for education," he added. "It may not be the most popular decision at the time, but it is the right thing to do."
 
Jones said the issue continues to be a top priority for him in the Senate during the current legislative session. He said he couldn't speak for the plan's chances in the House, which also is controlled by the Democrats.
 
Rather than agree to raise taxes for education, Blagojevich has earmarked a share of new revenue for schools in his state budgets. His proposed spending plan for the fiscal year beginning July 1 proposes $140 million in new education money, a decrease from his previous add-ons.
 
Becky Carroll, spokeswoman for the governor's budget office, said Blagojevich's stance against a broad tax increase "is the same today as it's been since the day he took office." The Chicago Democrat is expected to run for a second term in 2006.
 
"The governor agrees with President Jones that we need more money for our schools," Carroll said, "and that's why the governor has increased education funding by $1 billion in his first two years in office and is proposing an additional increase in the upcoming budget."
 
Among the audience members who applauded Jones on Friday was retired Democratic state Sen. Arthur Berman, a school-finance expert from
Chicago who serves on the Education Funding Advisory Board. Within the hour, the previously dormant board held its second meeting since Blagojevich appointed new members under pressure from education advocates.
 
The statutorily created panel issued a report in late 2002 that included a proposed tax swap and a recommendation that the state should spend at least $5,665 per student annually. The five-member board is expected to update that "foundation level" by early April in an overdue follow-up report to the General Assembly.
 
Using the board's earlier methodology, the foundation level would rise to at least $6,400, according to information posted on the Illinois State Board of Education's Web site. At Berman's suggestion, staff will make a new calculation using a business model, the Employment Cost Index.
 
Illinois government currently spends $4,964 per pupil. Berman conceded the General Assembly can't meet his panel's higher goal without identifying a significant revenue stream.
 
"Our charge is to recommend a fair foundation level so that every child has an efficient and productive education," he said. "What happens with that recommendation is up to our elected officials in the legislature - the House and Senate - and the governor."

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'Holey' war Students suspended for wearing ripped jeans
John Krupa, The
Alton Telegraph
 
BETHALTO -- Friday at
Civic Memorial High School started with the suspension of at least 45 students for flouting a direct order against wearing ripped jeans at school.
 
It ended with the arrests of three of the suspended juveniles for fighting and disorderly conduct at a "holey jeans" protest within sight of the school.
 
School administrators said dress code violations at Civic Memorial have been on the upswing since January; in particular, students wearing torn trousers.
 
"We have some that are exposing the crotch areas where you can see the underwear, the buttocks areas. We have some with big holes in the knees," Principal John Denton said.
 
Dress code policies in the Civic Memorial handbook specifically outlaw rips of any kind.
 
"Ripped jeans or any clothing with holes or large tears in it is not permitted," page 30 of the handbook reads.
 
Officials cracked down on "holey jeans," as some students call them, over the last month.
 
Denton said teachers reviewed the dress policy in classes and that he made three intercom announcements on the subject and talked to students individually, as well.
 
This apparently irritated some students, who organized a protest in which a number of students would wear ripped jeans to school en masse.
 
Denton got word of the plan and warned students not to go through with it Thursday over the intercom.
 
He said that if they did, it would be considered "gross disobedience" and would carry a one-day suspension from school, effective immediately.
 
Denton said between 45 and 50 students went through with the plan Friday, were identified as they walked into school and were turned around and sent home.
 
"We are talking about an organized protest that substantially disrupted the organized educational activities of our whole school," Superintendent Steven Harsy said.
 
The arrests came hours later, about
2:40 p.m., when about 30 of the suspended students picketed near the intersection of School Street and Old Bethalto Road.
 
They congregated there after a school official kept them from gathering in the high school parking lot.
 
They carried signs with slogans including, "Are pants more important than education?" while chanting, "If you’re happy and you know it, rip your pants."
 
Officers with the Bethalto Police Department initially drove by every few minutes, often warning the teens to stay off the street and refrain from shouting profanities.
 
However, officers returned later and arrested two 16-year-old students for fighting, Chief William Hays said, and one 15-year-old student for disorderly conduct after he refused to leave.
 
"He decided he was going to make a stand," Hays said. "And the rest were smart enough to probably do some mouthing but walk away."
 
Numerous students and parents said Friday that wearing ripped jeans is simply a fashion statement and that if officials plan to be so strict about the dress code, they should also be outlawing short skirts and sagging pants.
 
While most said jeans with rips in private areas should not be allowed, they have a real problem with a blanket policy that all rips are taboo.
 
"We get suspended if we have a quarter-size hole in our pants. This is ridiculous," 18-year-old senior Kyle Corrington said. "They are concerned more about our dress than our education, which is totally bogus."
 
Kathy Jo Sheppard, whose daughter attends Civic Memorial, plans to circulate a petition among parents asking the School Board to revise what she calls an overly strict dress code.
 
"Where are they going to stop with these nitpicking dress codes?" she asked. "I’m just worried they are going to keep adding to it."
 
Harsy said concerned parents such as Sheppard should attend April’s Community Advisory Committee meeting and state their opinions. He said a firm date hasn’t been set but that parents may call the central office in the coming weeks for more details.
 
In the meantime, students said administrators haven’t seen their last pair of "holey jeans" at the school.
 
Several students said they plan to wear ripped jeans every Friday from now on, regardless of the consequences.
 
Asked what the consequences might be, Harsy would only say that he wants
Denton to continue to enforce the dress code to the "T."
 
"We are committed to upholding everything in terms of our rules and regulations," Harsy said.

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First-grader hands out crack cocaine, thinking it was candy
Associated Press,
Chicago Sun-Times
 
CHICAGO HEIGHTS, Ill. - School authorities say they don't expect to discipline a first-grader who found 40 small bags of crack cocaine in his school book bag and allegedly handed the drug out to his classmates, thinking it was candy.
 
"He was a darling little child; he had no idea of what he had," said Chicago Heights District 170 Supt. Dollie Helsel.
 
Chicago Heights Deputy Police Chief Michael Camilli said the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services had been contacted about the incident Friday at the
Lincoln School, and the child's guardians were being sought.
 
"He lives in a household where apparently there's drug dealing, and when he sees these little bags of rock cocaine around the house, they're telling him it's candy," Camilli said.
 
Camilli called the situation "insane," and said, "I've been here 29 years; I've never seen anything like it."
 
Camilli said no one was harmed in the incident and police believe they retrieved all of the cocaine. He said officers believe someone at the child's home had used the book bag as a hiding place for the drug.

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Schools watch for signs, add security
Phyllis Coulter and Greg Cima,
Bloomington Pantagraph, 3/23/05
 
BLOOMINGTON -- The day following the nation's worst school shooting since the Columbine High School massacre in 1999, students and staff in Central Illinois schools were left wondering if something like that could happen here.
 
"We think we're immune to that type of thing. When it happens in a small, rural community, we realize we're not," said Jill Hayes, guidance counselor at the Delavan school district.
 
Scott Wiegand, 14, a student at Deer Creek-Mackinaw Primary and Junior High School, agreed.
 
"You wonder how safe your school is," he said.
 
A student shooting rampage Monday at
Red Lake High School in northern Minnesota left 10 people, including shooter, dead.
 
While area schools -- even small rural ones -- have beefed up security, educators and criminal justice experts say the question is when -- not if -- it will happen again. Reaching troubled students can be the key, they say.
 
Wiegand attends a school that in 2003 underwent $4.5 million in renovations that included the installation of security cameras and a secure entry.

The eight security cameras are controlled by school secretary Cindy Schmidgall, who can check the parking lots, entrances, playground and corridors. The cameras even show traffic on
East Fifth Street and have been used to monitor suspicious vehicles outside the school.
 
Guests also sign in and out and wear visitor badges.
 
"No one goes in or out without the staff knowing it," said Christina Lammers, principal of the Wiegand's school.
 
Tom Ellsworth, a school board member of Normal-based Unit 5, said he was surprised that the Columbine massacre was so long ago. He said it is "imbedded" in his mind, and he expects there will be another one.
 
"Where will the next one be?" said Ellsworth, who also chairs the criminal justice sciences department at the
Illinois State University.
 
Jeffrey Walsh, an assistant professor of criminal justice sciences at ISU, said school shooters may experience alienation and lack self-esteem. Such traits can be common among adolescents, making it difficult to identify troubled students, so communication is vital, he said.
 
Budget cuts only aggravate the situation, Ellsworth said. Budget cuts mean larger class sizes, higher student-to-teacher ratios, fewer extracurricular activities, and a loss of music, art and sports programs.
 
Students involved in such programs are less likely to be isolated, Ellsworth said.
 
"It's about communicating and staying in touch with these youths and getting a better pulse for what's going on with the youth of America today ... (and) parents staying engaged in children's lives," Walsh said.
 
Bloomington District 87 Superintendent Bob Nielsen said faculty members build relationships with students, pay attention to signs of depression and reach out to students before serious problems develop. School officials also rely on students to tell them when a student exhibits such signs or makes troubling comments, he said.
 
Delavan schools also have concentrated on their own security in recent months.
 
"We have a great crisis plan," Hayes said, noting the state will mandate such plans in the near future. "We're ahead of the game."
 
The 500-student school complex has practiced enacting the crisis plan, which was devised after discussions among educators, police, fire and medical emergency officials.
 
Hayes said they try to identify and help students who may be involved in vandalism or may have the potential to create a situation.
 
She said that while Delavan pays close attention to crisis plans, the shootings "will make us look at it again."
 
Red Lake High School had all the security systems and a crisis plan, Ellsworth said.
 
"How secure can schools be to protect students?" he said.

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Special-ed law made big cuts  
Intended to boost aid, measure instead had the opposite effect
By
Diane Rado, Chicago Tribune staff reporter, 3/25/05

In his mysterious world of autism, 5-year-old Vincent Vazquez can't speak, but he is learning to communicate. He points to words and pictures to signal what he wants, from a scooter ride to a twirl around the school gym in his teacher's arms.

All the while, Mindy McGuffin observes Vincent closely in order to advise his teachers and parents how to best work with the southwest suburban Shorewood boy.

A special education teacher by training, McGuffin works for a widely respected statewide autism program called the Illinois Autism/PDD Training and Technical Assistance Project, which is facing dramatic service cuts despite the rising incidence of autism in
Illinois.

"It's really kind of sickening," said McGuffin, whose 3-year-old daughter is autistic. Next year, the project's state grant will be cut to $200,000 from $732,600.

Likewise, 40 other special education grants that help schools and families work with the state's most vulnerable children will be cut by about $7 million by the end of June.

Among other things, the money has helped train teachers to work with autistic and deaf children, has provided computer equipment to disabled children and has helped families plan transitions from school to work for their special education children.

The agency that funds the statewide grant programs, the Illinois State Board of Education, says a new state law requires the board to redirect the money to local school districts struggling to pay extraordinary costs for some special education students.

Local school officials say they are not likely to duplicate the statewide grant programs, some in place for more than 15 years, which supplemented their work with special education children.

The cuts have caused a furor around the state and have caught many special education advocates by surprise: Some didn't know about the new law, and many were just notified of the cuts this month, though the law took effect in August. Now they are scrambling to figure out how to salvage their programs.

"We're gone. Our agency has been in existence for 12 years, and it will be discontinued," said Cheri Sinnott, director of the
Illinois Service Resource Center, which will lose its $460,000 state grant.

With a staff of six, the center assists schools and families that have deaf children with emotional, behavioral and mental problems.

Steve Vaupel, one of the center's behavior specialists, said he had crisscrossed the state, advising school staff members and families who often face unfamiliar territory in dealing with a deaf child with multiple needs. Some schools and families, particularly those in rural areas, don't know where to begin seeking help, he said, from finding a nearby psychiatrist or even an interpreter who knows sign language.

The chief sponsor of the legislation, Rep. Jerry Mitchell (R-Sterling), said he had no idea that his bill, meant to help local districts, would take away money from the statewide grant programs for special education children.

"It was never my intent to have these programs cut or have their funding cut," said Mitchell, who vowed to work to restore funding for the grant programs. Sen. Wendell Jones (R-Palatine), who pushed the legislation in the state Senate, also said he would try to restore the funding.

But the state board staff is not optimistic. "I'm not aware of any extra dollars. Over the last few months, I have looked everywhere. I don't know where I can find another penny," said James Gunnell, a top special education administrator at the state board.

While school officials often have to fight for what they consider to be scarce state resources, this budget fight is unusual because it pits two special education worlds against each other--local school districts that serve children and the specialized statewide organizations that supplement local services.

Districts get $1.5 billion

Local school districts receive more than $1.5 billion annually in federal and state dollars to pay expenses for special education students, from teachers, therapists and other professionals to transportation and private tuition for students who can't be served in a public-school setting.

Usually those dollars aren't enough to cover school districts' actual costs, particularly for severely disabled students with multiple needs, local special education officials say.

Mitchell, a former school superintendent, said he was trying to help districts by revising how special education dollars are disbursed in
Illinois. The state board supported the legislation, as did a statewide alliance of local special education administrators that had a lobbyist in Springfield to push the bill.

But an obscure part of the legislation redirected certain federal dollars that had been used in the past for statewide grant programs back into local districts that have extraordinary special education costs. School districts can now apply for extra money to help cover the costs of educating children whose expenses are more than four times the usual cost of educating students in their districts.

In addition, state board officials said other sources of discretionary funds have declined, giving them less money for the statewide grant programs.

Kathy Gould, director of the 7-year-old autism training project, said she will have to cut most of her staff, including regional coordinators like McGuffin.

That is particularly troubling, she said, because autism cases have surged in
Illinois. Her organization's figures show that 1,960 children between the ages of 3 to 21 received special education services for autism during the 1996-97 school year, compared with 6,125 in 2002-03.

Mother backs program

At Troy Crossroads Elementary School in Shorewood, McGuffin has been working with teachers and aides to help Vincent. The boy's mother, Claudia Vazquez, said the state needs programs such as the autism training project to help children like hers.

Busloads of advocates for autistic children are scheduled to go to
Springfield on April 6 to lobby Gov. Rod Blagojevich to restore funding for the state grants and encourage lawmakers to approve other bills to help autistic children.

Blagojevich exerts new control over the state board of education as the result of a change in the law last year.

In the meantime, "He is more than welcome to my home to see real life with an autistic child," Vazquez said.

- - -

New law cuts state special-ed grants

The Illinois State Board of Education will cut funding by June to 41 special education grants that help schools and families work with the state's most challenged children.

TOTAL FUNDING For school years
2004-05: $12.96 million
2005-06: $6.07 million     (Down) 53.2%

EXAMPLES OF MAJOR GRANTS CUT PROGRAM 2004-05 CUT
Assistive Technology Exchange Network $550,000 (Down) 100%
Gives free computers to children with disabilities
Corey H. Clearinghouse $150,000 (Down) 100%
Gives parents and educators access to information about special education issues.
Ill. Autism Training & Technical Assistance $732,600 (Down) 72.7%
Trains teachers, consults with families to work with autistic children
Ill. Service Resource Center $460,000 (Down) 100%
Assists schools and families in serving deaf child- ren with behavioral or mental health problems
Project CHOICES $810,200 (Down) 69.1%
Develops plans that ensure disabled students are placed in settings better fit for learning.

Sources:
Illinois State Board of Education, programs listed Chicago Tribune
 
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Two agriculture funds may be targeted for surplus sweeps to fund education    
By SHELBY SEBENS,
Decatur Herald & Review Springfield Bureau Writer, 3/24/05

SPRINGFIELD - To fill holes in education funding, the governor wants to skim two agriculture improvement funds at a time when some claim the industry is lagging behind other states.

Gov. Rod Blagojevich proposed transferring money from special funds that end the fiscal year with an excess balance in order to put $420 million into the School Endowment Fund over three years. The surplus funds were determined based on the ending balances of fiscal year 2004.

Critics of Blagojevich's plan say sweeping money from special funds is unfair and potentially unconstitutional.

"When something's earmarked for a certain cause, it should stay there," said Gordon Stine, president of the Illinois Farmers Union.

If a program is unable to pay monthly bills, it can borrow from the state's general revenue fund, said Becky Carroll, a Blagojevich spokeswoman.

"If they don't have a surplus at the end of any given year we're obviously not going to tap into (the fund)," she said.

The Illinois AgriFIRST and Farmer and Agri-Business Loan program funds are included in the list of more than 300 funds that could be swept.

Chris Herbert, spokeswoman for the Department of Agriculture, said having a surplus at the end of the fiscal year is possible for the AgriFIRST program.

AgriFIRST awards grants for feasibility studies, technical assistance and construction projects. The program is fully financed through the state's general revenue fund and currently has $227,765. The fund ended last year with $143,000 still in the bank, according to the governor's office.

Stine said both grants are vital to improving
Illinois' agricultural market.

"
Illinois is so far behind other states as far as the research money that we put into the ag programs," Stine said. "We have got to keep up with the times or we're going to fall behind."

However, Herbert said under the governor's plan, "We don't believe it will affect any of the projects that are slated."

Stine said funding for AgriFIRST has decreased steadily over the past few years.

"Ag is the leading industry in
Illinois, and what we spend on research is very minimal," Stine said. Illinois is behind in dealing with soybean rust, an infection that can be fatal to the plant, he said.

Stine said the Farmer and Agri-Business Loan program is also an important element to maintaining the industry.

"If we don't keep trying to do more promoting of business and things with our industry, it's not going to help our cause," he said.

The fund is essentially a reserve for banks that issue loans to farmers and other agriculture-related businesses. The program was implemented by the General Assembly in 1987, but has not been allocated for the last couple of years because of low defaults and investment payoffs, said Diane Hamburger, spokeswoman for the Illinois Finance Authority.

The current balance of the fund is $7.3million, and it finished 2004 with a $7.2 million balance.
 
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NATIONAL

Schools plan might shortchange the gifted
Matt Franck,
St Louis Post-Dispatch
 
JEFFERSON CITY - Legislators have the lofty goal this year of reconstructing Missouri's school funding system to guarantee an adequate education for all children.
 
But ironically, it's the state's best and brightest students that could suffer most under the plan, many educators say.
 
Under the current version of the school funding bill, the state would no longer set aside nearly $25 million a year to encourage schools to provide programs for gifted students.
 
Instead, that money would be combined with other education dollars, giving districts the flexibility to spend it as they see fit. In other words, districts would still have the gifted money but would have no obligation to spend it on gifted students.
 
Many school administrators fear the current plan could eventually lead districts to neglect gifted programs for more than 32,000 students statewide.
 
"There is a danger of not serving those students," said John Oldani, head of the Cooperating School Districts of Greater St. Louis. Oldani spoke at a hearing on the issue in
Jefferson City last week.
 
Legislators who are crafting the new school funding plan say they are willing to negotiate on the gifted education issue. One potential compromise is to change
Missouri's education standards to make sure gifted programs are protected even if the funding isn't earmarked for those services.
 
"There's a lot of options out there," said Sen. Charlie Shields, R-St. Joseph, who is the lead author of the school funding overhaul.
 
But in the meantime, some educators of the gifted are bitter about the proposed change.
 
Denise Pupillo, coordinator of gifted education for the
Parkway School District, calls the idea "a real travesty" rooted in a misunderstanding of gifted students and programs.
 
She said many wrongly view gifted programs as an elite and unnecessary luxury for smart students. In reality, she said, many gifted children would fail in school if their needs weren't met, much as special-education children need special attention.
 
"Our students are just as needy and just as at risk as the students at the other end," she said.
 
Shields said he and other lawmakers recognized the needs of gifted children.
 
"I think gifted kids are another category of at-risk kids," said Shields, a former school board member whose own child was in gifted programs.
 
But Shields said his preference was to leave the decisions of how to serve the gifted up to local school boards. The best way to do that is to beef up state standards to require that gifted programs be available, he said.
 
Even so, Shields said, he might be willing to amend the proposed school funding formula to earmark money for gifted students. The plan already would give extra money to districts for special-education students as well as those with limited English skills and children from low-income households.
 
Kyna Iman, who lobbies for the Gifted Association of Missouri, said she'd been pushing legislators to finance gifted programs the same way special education is funded under Shields' plan. But she had yet to see a draft of an alternative plan.
 
"Right now I don't have anything concrete," she said.
 
The popularity of gifted education programs has skyrocketed in
Missouri since the earmarked money became available to school districts.
 
According to the state, 293 school districts now qualify for the extra funding, up from just seven when the program began 30 years ago.
 
The money helps districts cover salaries of teachers who spend at least part of their day serving gifted students. For full-time gifted educators, the state often covers more than half of their salaries.
 
But David Welch,
Missouri's director of gifted education, said districts had recently had to pay a greater percentage of the costs for gifted programs, with the state lacking the money to fully fund them.
 
In the past few years, Welch said, 30 districts have opted to drop gifted programs.
 
Some say gifted programs will continue to be threatened as districts face heightened pressure from the federal government to meet the needs of special-education students.
 
Linda Smith, who directs gifted programs in the
Rockwood School District, said that decline might accelerate if the state eliminated the financial incentive for gifted programs.
 
"When you leave the door open for districts to do other things with the money, they generally jump at the opportunity," she said.
 
The school funding bill is SB287.

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State Stiffing City Schools Out of Fair Lottery-Pot Cut
By DAVID ANDREATTA,
New York Post, 3/21/05
 
City schools have lost out on some $340 million in state aid over the last four fiscal years because lottery proceeds to education are not distributed equitably, state Assemblyman Scott Stringer (D-Manhattan) charged yesterday.

Between fiscal years 2001 and 2004, gamblers in the five boroughs accounted for 44 percent of statewide lottery sales — yet schools here got just under 39 percent of the education aid generated by the lottery, according to a Stringer study.

Last year, the city got about $700 million of the state's $1.9 billion lottery education pot — or about 40 percent. But of the roughly $5.8 billion in state lottery revenues last year, almost $2.6 billion — or 45 percent — came from the city.

"
New York City is driving the lottery, yet we're not getting our fair share," Stringer said. "People are buying lottery tickets not realizing that the money is not going to their schools."

Legislation to award lottery aid according to ticket sales in school districts has been introduced by Stringer.

For more than a decade, money from the state lottery has been distributed to individual counties based on a formula that considers student population and wealth.

The city has 36.5 percent of the state's public-school students, and last year received over 38 percent of state education aid, according to the state budget office.

"Despite the Assembly's failure to enact legislation to change this formula, Gov. Pataki has made great strides in increasing the city's share of state education dollars," said state budget spokesman Michael Marr.

In his budget proposal, Pataki outlined a Sound Basic Education Fund for high-need school districts. He claims 60 percent of the fund would be reserved for city schools.
 
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Test scores fall sharply at scrutinized schools
Expert cautions the decline doesn't prove past cheating
By JASON SPENCER, Houston Chronicle,
3/19/05

Almost all of the
Houston elementary schools under scrutiny for possibly cheating to produce high test scores in past years posted significantly weaker results under this year's tightly monitored exams.
 
Campus passing rates at all but one of the 18 schools with questionable testing histories dropped at a greater clip than the overall
Houston Independent School District passing rate on the third-grade Texas Assessment of Knowledge and Skills reading exam.


The sharp decline is not outright proof of cheating or wrongdoing, but adds to suspicions, said Thomas Haladyna, an
Arizona State University professor specializing in standardized test research.

"That's very improbable," Haladyna said. "You wonder about the validity of scores when they jump around like that. All citizens have a right to question the validity of scores when the results are so implausible."

Students took the TAKS last month in classrooms monitored by 600 HISD employees. Reacting to allegations of possible cheating made in late December, HISD officials had warned teachers and principals that this year's scores would be closely analyzed for signs of impropriety.

Other factors besides cheating, such as teacher turnover rates and changing student populations, could cause major score fluctuations, Haladyna said. But that doesn't explain why virtually every suspected school regressed more than the typical campus, he said.

HISD officials cautioned against reading too much into the poorer results by the 18 schools. In an e-mail, spokesman Terry Abbott pointed out that some of the 170 elementary schools that have not been suspected of cheating also posted scores substantially lower than last year's. And the cheating investigations at most of the schools are focusing on score anomalies at other grade levels and subjects rather than third-grade reading, Abbott said.

The three schools being investigated specifically for questionable third-grade reading scores in 2004 — Douglass, Osborne and E.O. Smith — had some of the sharpest drops in 2005 scores.

Passing rates at the 18 schools facing cheating allegations fell an average of 19 percentage points. The drop ranged from 30 or more points at Crawford, Douglass and E.O. Smith elementaries to just 1 percentage point at Isaacs Elementary. Overall, the passing rate for the 14,751 HISD students who took the reading test that's used to determine whether they move on to the fourth grade fell five percentage points to 82 percent.

Numbers down

In addition, average scale scores, which measure the number of correctly answered questions, increased 10 points for HISD's English-speaking students but fell an average of nearly 70 points at the 18 schools with suspect testing histories. Only two of those schools —
Kashmere Gardens and TSU/HISD Lab School — increased their average scale scores at a higher rate than the rest of the school district.

Last year, 13 of the schools suspected of cheating recorded average scale scores that ranked in the top half of all HISD schools on the English exam. This year, that number shrunk to four.

Seven of the 14
Houston schools with the biggest drops in average scale scores are under investigation for cheating.

It would be wrong to conclude that cheating occurred at any school based solely on the scale scores, Abbott said.

While their English-speaking classmates posted lower scale scores on the exam, Spanish speakers at Petersen and Scott elementaries showed progress. The three other schools facing cheating allegations that tested students in Spanish— Sanchez, Crawford and Gregg — produced lower scale scores in both languages.

HISD Superintendent Abe Saavedra ordered investigations of possible cheating at two dozen schools earlier this year after a Dallas Morning News analysis of scale scores revealed statistically improbable improvement in hundreds of classrooms across the state. All but one of those investigations are ongoing. Last month, HISD administrators fired two fifth-grade math teachers at Sanderson Elementary and demoted the principal after determining the teachers gave answers to students and that the principal should have been aware of the cheating. The teachers have denied any wrongdoing.

Further investigation

The sharp decline in scale scores at the 18 elementaries warrants further investigation, said Gregory Cizek, a
University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill professor who teaches educational measurement and evaluation. The Texas Education Agency recently hired Cizek to review test security procedures and suggest possible improvements across the state.

"Seventy points is a pretty meaningful change," Cizek said.
 
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State to dissolve W-H school board
Some trustees outraged by decision, which cited teacher TAKS cheating
By JOSHUA BENTON, The Dallas Morning News,
3/22/05

The Wilmer-Hutchins school board will soon be out of work.

State Education Commissioner Shirley Neeley has decided to dissolve the troubled district's board because state investigators found widespread cheating by Wilmer-Hutchins teachers on the state's TAKS test.

The investigation – prompted by a series of Dallas Morning News stories in November – found that more than 20 Wilmer-Hutchins teachers and administrators gave answers to students.

According to a confidential Texas Education Agency report obtained by The News, teachers ordered students who finished the test early to fix answers on other students' answer sheets. Some students were required to have their answers checked before proceeding to the next question. And some teachers prepared answer keys for students.

In all, 22 educators were fingered by the investigation – two-thirds of all the educators who administered tests in the district's elementary schools.

The Story So Far
 
Budget woes, questionable leadership, students at risk: Turmoil is nothing new to this struggling district. Read through the archive of recent reporting on the woes at Wilmer-Hutchins schools.
"This significant number appears to indicate a pervasive lack of oversight at three of the four elementary campuses and at the district level to such an extent that the validity of the test results is compromised," the report said.

Some trustees reacted with outrage at the dissolution of the board.

"We're being declared guilty for nothing," said board President Luther Edwards. "We haven't done anything wrong. It's the major power brokers who are arranging all this."

But other area leaders welcomed the change and said the idea of teachers helping students cheat on the Texas Assessment of Knowledge and Skills is shameful.

"They treated those kids horribly," Wilmer Mayor Don Hudson said of the educators accused of cheating. "They weren't doing anyone any favors except themselves. Now we'll have kids who can't function in society even with a Wilmer-Hutchins diploma because they were never really taught."

Under state law, a board of managers is the most severe intervention the commissioner can impose on a school district. The school board will be dissolved and a superintendent appointed.

James Damm has been interim superintendent since Superintendent Charles Matthews was fired in November after being indicted on felony document tampering charges. It was unclear whether Dr. Neeley would choose to reappoint Mr. Damm to the position or choose a new leader.

"I have to try to digest ... [the report] and see what it really means," Mr. Damm said.

Wilmer-Hutchins has been hammered by a series of crises in the last year, beginning with a summer storm that damaged
Wilmer-Hutchins High School and left it in such condition that the start of school had to be delayed. Among the other problems:

•The district's evaporating fund balance, which meant the district didn't have the money to pay its teachers on time twice last fall.

•Criminal investigations launched by the FBI, the Texas Rangers and county and federal grand juries, including allegations that district officials fudged attendance records to illegally increase state funding.

•The indictment of Dr. Matthews and maintenance director Wallace Faggett after they were accused of destroying purchase orders and other documents sought by criminal investigators.

•The revelation that its chief attorney – since fired – had been practicing for a time without a law license.

•A judge's ruling that banned the school board from meeting because it posed a danger to the district's well-being.

•The discovery that the district had been setting its tax rate illegally since the 1970s.

"School governance is unstable in Wilmer-Hutchins ISD and has been so for many years," Dr. Neeley wrote in a letter to district leaders Monday.

The final trigger for the dissolution of the school board was the cheating scandal. Even before Monday's report, the allegations were supported by the district's abysmal performance on this spring's TAKS. In response to concerns about cheating, state officials sent more than 70 monitors to oversee the first round of TAKS testing last month – one per classroom in all the district's elementary schools.

With teachers being watched for improper behavior, scores plummeted.

This year, 39 percent of the district's fifth-graders passed the reading TAKS. That's 36 percentage points below the state average.

It's also quite a change from last year, when 89 percent of Wilmer-Hutchins fifth-graders passed the reading test – 9 percentage points above the state average.

"It's a pretty unbelievable drop in scores," said Suzanne Marchman, a TEA spokeswoman. "The fifth-grade scores are lousy."

Third-graders saw a similar, though smaller, drop – from 89 percent last year to 72 percent this year.

Concerns about the validity of Wilmer-Hutchins' test scores were first raised in a News investigation in November that found statistically unlikely swings in the district's performance. Several students also said teachers had given them answers while administering the TAKS.

After the News articles, the TEA began an investigation. In all, 54 students and 31 current and former district employees were interviewed. The report says it took several attempts to perform the student interviews because it had problems getting written permission slips sent home to parents and returned.

Investigators also found that unusually high numbers of answers were erased and replaced on the answer sheets of Wilmer-Hutchins students – and that unusually high numbers of the erasures changed wrong answers to correct ones.

For example, in one third-grade classroom at Wilmer Elementary, student answer sheets had 57 times more erasures than the state average.

Through interviews, investigators found evidence of cheating at all four Wilmer-Hutchins elementary schools: Alta Mesa, C.S. Winn, Wilmer and Hutchins. (Hutchins Elementary was closed as a cost-cutting measure in December.)

The report does not identify any of the teachers involved but does indicate that violations were most commonly found among third-grade teachers. Of the 10 educators who administered the test to third-graders, eight were found to have committed violations. Third grade is the year that students take a must-pass reading test in order to be promoted to the fourth grade.

As a result of the findings, Dr. Neeley said she will be lowering the ratings of Alta Mesa, C.S. Winn and Wilmer to "academically unacceptable," the lowest possible. The district's overall rating will also be lowered.

That's important because state officials have said that, under state law, a board of managers can be imposed only on a district with the state's lowest rating.

Dr. Neeley must now appoint a board and superintendent. Mr. Hudson, the Wilmer mayor, said that he spoke with Dr. Neeley on Monday and that the commissioner gave him the names of some of the members, though he said he did not recognize them. He said some were from the immediate area and some were not.

The TEA must also get Justice Department approval for the move because it involves the removal of an elected body.

Since the November appointment of a two-person management team, board members have clashed repeatedly with their state overseers, forcing the state managers to use their power to overrule decisions. Most recently, the board voted three times this month not to finalize the firing of Dr. Matthews, despite a state hearing examiner's report recommending the indicted leader's termination be finalized.

Mr. Edwards, a board member for 12 years, has said repeatedly that state intervention is not driven by poor decisions by the board. The real cause, he said, is a conspiracy of greed, led by shady, unknown individuals.

"We're being held accountable for things that we didn't do wrong," he said. If there was cheating in Wilmer-Hutchins, blame should fall on principals, not the board, he said.

But Michelle Willhelm, one of the state managers, said she agreed with the decision to impose a board of managers.

"The board is a hindrance to progress," she said. "It's better to move them aside and let a board of managers move ahead."

The commissioner's recommendations are included in a preliminary report that was released to district officials Monday. Mr. Damm and board members have 10 days to comment on the report's findings, after which the TEA will issue a final report and formally take steps to dissolve the board.
 
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Metro parents worry about safety of kids
Granholm: Cut school bus inspections
By Tom Greenwood, The
Detroit News, 3/22/05

Gov. Jennifer Granholm wants to eliminate annual state school bus inspections, which last year sidelined nearly 2,200 of the 17,800 buses because of serious safety violations.

It's part of her plan to balance the state budget and would save $1.3 million. The state can't legally force districts and private schools to perform their own inspections, but Granholm hopes they'll do them voluntarily.

That's troubling to some parents who fear for the safety of the 850,000 kids who ride
Michigan buses and to schools that say they can't afford to pay to inspect them.

"I have concerns about this," said Doris Neumeyer, a mother of three from
Washington Township. "I know we have a good bus director, but everybody is looking to cut corners, and I can see where that would be a very easy corner to cut.

"We're all supposed to change the oil in our cars and rotate the tires on a regular basis, but we all get tied up -- or unexpected expenses come along -- so we put things off. If no one is watching you, that sort of thing is easier to do."

Tony Tiffin, director of transportation for the
Royal Oak School District, says the state is putting districts, which already are struggling with budget troubles, in a tough spot.

"We're most assuredly feeling a budget crunch here,"
Tiffin said.

Tiffin's Royal Oak district has 42 buses that carry about 1,300 students daily.

"We take bus safety very seriously here. We had a 100 percent 'pass' rate the last time around, which is a credit to our mechanics that have been with us for years." Granholm's proposal is pending in the state Senate, which is considering her 2005-06 budget proposal. The new budget takes effect Oct. 1.

"The over-arching reason is the saving of funds, which would come from the budget of the State Police," said Greg Bird, spokesman for the state budget office in
Lansing.

The state, he said, "cannot mandate that the schools do these inspections on their own without supplying them with state funds to conduct the inspection.

"We would hope that they would continue to do so, but we could not order them to if the statute is eliminated."

Kim Hooper, transportation consultant for the Wayne County Regional Educational Service Agency, said elimination of the state inspections would jeopardize the safety of
Michigan students. Hooper noted that two years ago, a bus filled with 6-year-olds from the Wayne County Academy was struck by a semi carrying 76,000 pounds of auto parts."The bus had been inspected just five weeks before the crash, and a problem was found where welds in the body structure had come apart," Hooper said. "The problem was corrected. There were 37 injuries, but no one was killed because the bus held together. I compared it to a crash in Florida -- which doesn't have annual inspections -- and the top of the bus collapsed to its seats.

"With no yearly inspections, that defect would never have been found."

Michigan's school buses are inspected on a cycle beginning each Sept. 1 and ending Aug. 31. In Ohio, school buses are inspected during the summer by the Ohio Highway Patrol, which also conducts spot checks during the school year. In Illinois, the state's school buses are inspected annually by the Illinois Department of Transportation.

Thorough exams

The Motor Carrier Division of the State Police inspection unit is responsible for the annual inspection of school buses, which carry more than 850,000 Michigan children over 10 million miles each year. The state has been inspecting school buses for at least five decades. All school-owned vehicles -- private schools as well as public -- that are used to transport children must be inspected under current law.

"We conduct a 198-point inspection of every school bus within the state," said Lt. David Ford of the Michigan State Police Motor Carrier Division.

"We check everything: tires, brakes, lights, frame, suspension, steering, seats, emergency exits, overhead lights and much more.

"We have 13 vehicle safety inspectors, and they're constantly busy. By the time they finish the inspections, they're ready to start over again. We then post the results on our Web site on a quarterly basis with annual results at the end of the year."

Vehicles with the most serious problems, which could cause a breakdown or endanger passengers, are issued red tags. Those buses can't carry passengers until the problem is corrected to the satisfaction of state inspectors. Red-tag conditions include anything that would cause the bus to break down or pose a safety risk to students, such as worn brakes and tires.

Buses that are yellow-tagged may stay on the road, but the problems must be corrected within 60 days. Such problems would include faulty interior lights, paint and markings.

According to the Michigan State Police, their safety inspectors conducted 17,372 school bus inspections during the 2003-04 school year; 83 percent passed, down from 85.9 percent the previous year. It was the first decrease in five years.

Last year, red tags were issues to 2,181 buses, or 12.5 percent of the state's fleet. That was a 2.15 percent increase in red tags over the previous year.

A sampling of Metro-area districts with substantial failure rates:

• Of
Detroit's 400 district-owned school buses, 190 were red-tagged, and 19 were yellow-tagged.

• In
East Detroit, seven buses passed inspection, four -- 57 percent -- were red-tagged, and one was yellow-tagged.

• In the
Gibraltar district, eight buses passed inspection, 14 received red tags, and four were yellow-tagged.

Dale Goby, executive director of the office of student transportation of the Detroit Public Schools, said his department is well aware of the governor's plan.

"The State Police inspection program could be done for less cost and maybe more effectively, but to eliminate it entirely is not a good move," Goby said. "To transfer inspections from an area that doesn't have enough money to school districts that don't have enough money doesn't make sense.

"The State Police inspections are to a higher standard than given to personal vehicles. ... It reassures parents that there's a higher authority to inspect those vehicles annually."

Macomb Township resident Laura Schmitt has four children who ride buses to school, and she's confident of their safety.

"I don't fear the idea of school districts doing their own inspections," said Schmitt, whose children attend elementary and middle school.

"They're in the business of looking out for children, which includes looking out for their safety. I think they're out to do the best they can for the children. I also understand the governor wanting to cut the budget when necessary. It's nice to have the State Police doing inspections, but I'm not worried."
 
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More schools have groups for gays
By Carolyn Bower,
St. Louis Post-Dispatch
 
As students have become more comfortable talking about homosexuality, interest is booming in programs to help students feel more safe at school.
 
In
Missouri, about 18 schools in the area have gay-straight alliance programs. Only a handful of schools in the region had such programs four years ago. Although the number of gay-straight programs in high schools is increasing, only a few exist in the Metro East area with clubs listed at Alton, Belleville and O'Fallon high schools.
 
Dennis Nicely, head of the
St. Louis region's Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network, attributes the growth in the groups to students who feel more comfortable speaking about issues that affect gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender students.
 
Still, efforts have moved slowly at some schools.
 
Kirkwood High School was among the first schools in the area to form a gay-straight alliance, but even there, students report harassment or bullying.
 
"We have a good school, but there still are a lot of slurs," said Mandi Rice, vice president of the Gay-Straight Alliance at
Kirkwood High School. "I can walk through the halls and hear jokes. There's not much in the way of threats or physical violence, most is verbal. But that hurts too."
 
Rice, 16 and a junior, spoke during a break from a regional conference last week at
Ladue Horton Watkins High School about issues facing gay and straight students. More than 130 students and educators attended - about three times the attendance at a similar gathering last year.
 
Five percent of high school students nationwide are gay or lesbian, according to a survey by the Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network. The group surveyed 2,171 students in October.
 
Surveys by the group have found name-calling and anti-gay remarks widespread in high school. Eighty-one percent of students surveyed reported hearing homophobic language often at school. Sixty-six percent of students reported using slurs such as "that's so gay" to describe something wrong, bad or stupid. Most said they used the words as a joke.
 
Students and educators say they seek ways to deal with such comments rather than ignore them.
 
Adele Hayes, sponsor of the Kirkwood Gay-Straight Alliance, said educators and students can face criticism for starting such a group. She said nontenured teachers can risk losing their jobs in some places over association with the groups.
 
Rebecca Buckley, a librarian and a sponsor of an alliance at
McCluer High School, said she got phone calls from people saying she was trying to turn students gay when the school's gay-straight alliance began meeting four months ago.
 
"I was sponsor of the school's Bible Club last year," Buckley said. "I just want a place for students to feel comfortable."
 
Efforts to start a gay-straight alliance at
Ritenour High School have been less successful.
 
Some students and parents say they believe a Ritenour chemistry teacher was pushed out for supporting a student effort to form a gay-straight alliance. The teacher, who has asked not to be identified because she is seeking another job, was suspended and then resigned several weeks ago.
 
Ritenour Principal Bill Korte attended the session at Ladue on how to start an alliance. Korte said the teacher's suspension had nothing to do with alternative lifestyles or a gay-straight alliance.
 
Korte said plans are in motion to establish a gay-straight alliance at Ritenour High.
 
"Like any school we have a variety of students with different needs," he said. "We're all diverse. This is not a judgment issue. It's an acceptance issue."
 
Erin Kidder, 16, agrees.
 
"I believe it is important for students to be accepting and for schools to harbor lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgendered students in a tolerant way," said Kidder, who began attending Gay-Straight Alliance meetings last year as a freshman at Ladue High.

Public schools must allow gay-straight alliances if other student clubs exist. Public schools also cannot stop someone from bringing a same-sex partner to a school prom, said Scott Emanuel, project coordinator for the American Civil Liberties Union of Eastern Missouri.
 
"When there is bias, that gets in the way of student rights," Emanuel said.
 
He added that he could not have imagined 20 years ago, when he was a senior in high school, that there would be a regional conference for gay and straight students. "This is huge," he said.
 
Number of gay-straight clubs in high schools this year:
Missouri - 35
Illinois - 115
Nation - 3,000
Source: Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network

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Arnold wields clout on education rules
By George Archibald,
Washington Times, 3/23/05

Education Secretary Margaret Spellings eased federal guidelines the same day California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger asked her to relax certain school requirements under the No Child Left Behind Act, a feat some of his fellow governors haven't been able to accomplish.
   
Mr. Schwarzenegger met with the secretary March 8 in
Washington and asked her to limit the number of California school districts labeled as needing improvement for low student achievement. Mrs. Spellings immediately approved his request.
 
"Prior to the secretary's meeting with Governor Schwarzenegger,
California made a decision to make the changes needed to follow the [NCLB] law. That made negotiating the details easier," said Raymond J. Simon, assistant secretary for elementary and secondary education, who joined Mrs. Spellings in her discussions with various governors over the past several weeks.

California was allowed to join about 20 states using the so-called "Tennessee Accountability Model," which labels a school as low-performing only if students in various subgroups -- such as those based on income, race or sex -- fail to reach achievement targets in reading and mathematics across all grades for two years in a row.

The state had wrangled with
Washington for months by singling out students from low-income families to gauge overall school progress on standardized tests, which is a departure from the NCLB. By giving precedence to the progress of poor children, the state said just 14 of 1,000 school districts were in need of improvement last year, while 310 would be labeled low-performing under stricter federal standards. Under the Tennessee model, 184 California school districts are labeled as needing improvement from testing in 2003 and 2004.

Most states are looking for ways to test reading and math ability of children with disabilities and low English proficiency separately, so their performance does not pull down a school's overall academic progress. But other governors who have negotiated personally with Mrs. Spellings were told to wait on their requests for greater flexibility under the NCLB.

Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman Jr. met with the secretary a week after Mr. Schwarzenegger, but was told he would have to wait for a decision on state requests for relaxed requirements, even though both houses of Utah's Republican-controlled Legislature were poised to tell Washington next month in a special session to jettison NCLB altogether in favor of state education standards.

The same was true for Texas Gov. Rick Perry, lieutenant governor under then-Gov. George Bush, and for Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, the president's brother, whose alternative methods for measuring yearly student progress have been rebuffed by the department.

Mrs. Spellings told both governors close to the president their leniency requests are on hold as the department assesses possible repercussions across the country.

"Each state has its own set of unique challenges and objectives that require our careful consideration," Mr. Simon said.
 
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900 students walk out
Teachers' Jobs Imperiled: East Side District Mails 788 Layoff Warnings
By Jon Fortt, Mercury News, 3/23/05

An estimated 900 students at six
San Jose high schools walked out of class Tuesday morning, protesting planned teacher layoffs in East Side Union High School District.

But the walkouts, spurred on by student e-mails and a shock-jock radio show, might have deepened the district's financial crisis. When students miss class, the district can lose thousands of dollars in state funding.

The protest added a new wrinkle to the intensifying feud between teachers and administrators in
Santa Clara County's second-largest district over how to manage next year's projected $10 million budget deficit.

Administrators want
East Side teachers, whose compensation scale is among the most generous in Santa Clara County, to take a pay cut. Teachers want the district to pay salaries out of funds earmarked for building projects.

Now, students are weighing in -- and so far they're siding with their teachers.

Piedmont Hills High senior Peggy Misquez-Savitz said she began the walkout at her
North San Jose school, getting up during class and leading as her whole class walked out. The senior said she began knocking on doors to get other students to join.

``I said, `Come on, let's just walk out. Don't let them fire our teachers. Don't let them mess up our school district.' ''

The district's internal strife deepened over the past week after layoff warnings were sent to 788 teachers, roughly two of every three in the district. The warnings were a formality -- the district could not function if it laid off 788 teachers. The final number will be less than 200, said Superintendent Esperanza Zendejas.

Deadline for notices

The warnings came because
East Side faced a March 15 legal deadline to mail notices to any teacher who stood the slightest chance of being laid off. And because East Side has kept poor records of teacher qualifications, and district administrators don't yet know which programs they will cut, the district sent the disquieting warnings to four times as many teachers as it expects could actually lose their jobs.

That flood of layoff warnings fed a student outcry.

Hundreds of teachers rallied Saturday in protest. Students e-mailed Zendejas. They e-mailed school board members and reporters.

Then on Friday, The Doghouse morning show on popular radio station KYLD-FM (94.97) began reporting that the teachers who had received warnings would actually be fired. Shock jocks JV, Elvis and
Hollywood took calls from students and parents with ideas on how to respond. Those ideas included walking out of class Tuesday morning. Walk-out e-mails began circulating among students.

``The mention of the walkout was just, some schools are doing this,'' said program director Dennis Martinez. ``None of the jocks were saying you need to walk out.''

The Doghouse DJs did stage a ``sick out'' Tuesday morning in solidarity with student protesters. After radio station managers got word Tuesday that the district would lose money if students missed class, it tried to discourage walkouts.

The demonstrations Tuesday morning were mostly peaceful, though an unknown number of students were suspended.

Officials said about 50 students walked out at Andrew Hill. At James Lick, administrators led about 200 students to a multipurpose room after they walked out, and they were allowed to voice their concerns. At Oak Grove, about 250 students walked out and participated in an open microphone session. At
Mount Pleasant, about 200 walked out.

At
Independence, administrators quickly persuaded several dozen students to go to class before they staged a full walkout.

Costly protests

Ric Abeyta, the district's chief safety officer, said he's fine with students protesting as long as it doesn't happen during school hours. If students miss class, the state sends less money, worsening the budget woes. He said the superintendent has asked principals to help students organize protests before or after school, or during lunch, to voice concerns about cutbacks.

``We're making hard decisions,'' said Abeyta, who said he also got a layoff warning. ``Sure, it's unsettling.''

There were some problems, though. District officials said a few students at various schools refused to return to class. After about 150 students walked out at Piedmont Hills, administrators urged them to return to class and protest during non-class hours. About 50 students refused, and two girls were cited by police after scuffling with administrators as they tried to force open a gate and leave campus.

After the protest, police cars blocked entrance to the campus.

Struggle at gate

Misquez-Savitz was one of those who refused to end the protest. She and others who were there said administrators and the group of students reached an exit gate at the same time. As Principal Dan Moser and another administrator tried to close it, students tried to force it open.

The two administrators said students shoved them; one student said the fight over the gate resulted in an administrator being hit with it. Students said administrators did the shoving, and student Alexis Franco said an administrator kicked her arm as he tried to put a gate-locking bar into place with his foot. She had small, lightly visible marks on her arm.

``This is just bad administration,'' said Jack Brito, whose daughter Raquel was among the protesters. ``These administrators and teachers are probably overwhelmed,'' he said, but they shouldn't have touched students to stop them.

``All we were doing was trying to protest to keep the teachers,'' said Raquel Brito, as she left the school. ``All we want to do is learn. We can't learn if we don't got teachers.''
 
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States Worry About Meeting Requirements of Education Law
By Greg Winter,
New York Times, 3/24/05

Test scores on state exams have been going up since the passage of the No Child Left Behind Act, President Bush's signature education law. But states have grave doubts about their ability to meet the full requirements of the law, especially when it comes to helping students in struggling schools achieve academic proficiency, a new survey has found.
 
Nearly three-fourths of the states and school districts surveyed said that student performance on state exams was improving, as required under federal law. Many also reported that the achievement gap between different student groups was narrowing, particularly between white and minority students, and between those with disabilities and those without.

Still, the vast majority of states said they faced moderate or serious challenges carrying out the law in several areas, beginning with their obligation to make sure that students at ailing schools met the same academic standards as everyone else.

The survey was conducted by the Center on Education Policy, a research and advocacy group, which has conducted similar surveys annually since the law took effect in 2002.

Beyond finding the law's requirement that disabled or non-English-speaking students perform as well as other students unrealistic and unfair, about four-fifths of the states said that they were not getting enough money from either the states or the federal government to accomplish the law's lofty goals.

In fact, more districts said their federal money to educate poor students had gone down rather than up over the last year, the survey found, even though the expectations of their performance continued to rise.

"That's where you get your complaints," said Jack Jennings, president of the Center on Education Policy. "People are saying, 'We're not getting any federal money, or very little of it, but we still have to test all of our students and raise the caliber of our teachers and students, just like everybody else.' "

The law requires states to make academic progress every year, with the ultimate goal of all students attaining proficiency by 2014. To get there, states set benchmarks for all schools to hit, each higher than the one before. When schools fail to make the standard for two years in a row, they fall into the category of needing improvement, and their students must ultimately be given a chance to transfer out.

Ray Simon, an assistant secretary at the federal Department of Education, said the survey showed that the law was "having a positive impact on our nation's schools," though Mr. Jennings was quick to say that much of the improvement had been driven by state and local education efforts that predated the law.

Beyond that, Mr. Simon objected to the states' arguments that inadequate financial support from the federal government jeopardized their ability to meet the law's requirements. He added, "The perpetual cry for more money, once again echoed in this report, simply does not comport with the facts."

Indeed, federal money for educating poor students has increased by several billion dollars in the last five years, the department's records show. But while those dollars have grown, Mr. Jennings said, they have been increasingly focused on urban districts with high concentrations of poverty, leaving many others with dwindling shares of money.

Even some districts that have benefited from federal money say that it has not been enough. Xavier Botana, the director of No Child Left Behind for the
Chicago public schools, which make up the nation's third-largest school district, says the city's students are posting record test scores in multiple subjects and grades, and the gains they have made often outpace those of their counterparts elsewhere in Illinois.

Nonetheless, 340 of
Chicago's 613 schools have been classified as needing improvement, Mr. Botana said, because they have fallen short of the state's academic standards.

"We've made what are remarkable strides, but that's the problem with N.C.L.B.," he said. "It assumes you're going to hit the same benchmark at the same time as everyone else, regardless of where you started. And we started a lot further back than other people."

Mr. Botana added that state-commissioned research had found that an extra $2 billion would have to be spent on Illinois schools every year for 80 percent of students to achieve proficiency, though that is still less ambitious than the federal goal.

The difficulty districts have in bringing students up to par was evident in the survey. Twenty percent of districts had at least one school in need of improvement in the 2004-5 school year, compared with 16 percent the year before and 15 percent in 2002-3. More districts than in past years had at least one school required to offer transfers, even though only one in 100 eligible students made use of them.

Why students choose not to switch schools may stem from a variety of bureaucratic and personal reasons. In many cases, districts say they cannot accommodate transfers in their higher-performing schools.
 
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Montgomery Schools' Ban On Fliers Backed by Court
Christian Group Alleged Discrimination
By Lori
Aratani, Washington Post Staff Writer, 3/25/05

Montgomery County school officials did not violate the First Amendment rights of a national Christian group when they barred it from distributing fliers to elementary school students in 2001, a U.S. District Court ruled yesterday.

Child Evangelism Fellowship of Maryland sued the school system in 2001, after school officials rejected the group's request to send home fliers promoting its after-school Good News Club programs -- in which children recite Bible verses and learn Bible stories -- because the school system considered the materials religious in nature.
 
The Evangelism Fellowship maintained that the schools' policy discriminated against the group because the policy allowed other organizations -- such as parent-teacher groups and nonprofit youth sports leagues -- to distribute fliers to students. But U.S. District Judge Peter J. Messitte said in his 25-page opinion that it "was not persuaded merely because organizations such as these are granted access that CEF must be granted access as well.'"

Messitte's ruling noted that the school system's policy offered other avenues for the group to advertise its activities. The fellowship and other groups can be present at back-to-school nights and open houses and display their fliers on bulletin boards -- as long as they have permission from the schools, the judge noted.

"The decision reflects the best interests of our community and upholds the efforts of the Board of Education to be fair and equitable in the distribution of materials to students," Montgomery School Superintendent Jerry D. Weast said. "I believe the court correctly recognized that appropriate limits can be placed on the information sent home with children."

Attorneys for Child Evangelism Fellowship could not be reached for comment.

The U.S. District Court in
Greenbelt initially rejected the fellowship's request for a preliminary injunction to allow the organization to distribute its fliers. The group appealed the ruling to the Richmond-based U.S. Court of Appeals for the 4th Circuit, which in a 2 to 1 vote reversed the court's decision and sent the case back to be heard by the lower court.

The group has 30 days to appeal this latest ruling.

The dispute between the school system and the organization attracted the attention of the Bush administration, which filed an amicus brief in federal court supporting the group.

In its brief, the administration argued that the group offered students "educational, cultural and recreational opportunities that are similar to activities offered by other community organizations that submit fliers for inclusion in the students take-home folders. That CEF does these things from a religious viewpoint does not change the fact that its activities meet the school board's criteria for including in the take-home folders."

As the case wound its way through the court system, the school system in July moved to formalize its policy on flier distribution. Under the guidelines, the only fliers that could be distributed would be from public schools, county, state and federal agencies and departments; nonprofit sports leagues; parent-teacher and parent-teacher-student organizations; and licensed day-care operations on school campuses.

All fliers, though, would require approval from a community superintendent or deputy school superintendent rather than the principal.
 
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Columbine community reaches out
Denver Post, 3/25/05
 
Members of the
Columbine High School community say they're willing and ready to help grief-stricken residents of Red Lake, Minn., where a troubled 16-year-old high school student shot and killed nine people and then himself Monday.

But unless they're invited, they say they won't barge in.

"I've called and called the principal up there to offer support, but I haven't been able to reach him," said Columbine principal Frank DeAngelis.

Dawn Anna, mother of slain Columbine student Lauren Townsend, told DeAngelis she'd be willing to help but wouldn't go without an invitation.

Other parents, such as Tom Mauser and Brian Rohrbough, said they would help if asked.

Bruce Porter, pastor of the Littleton-based
Torch Life Church, drove to Red Lake on his own.

Greg Zanis, the
Illinois carpenter who made 13 crosses for Clement Park near Columbine, arrived in Red Lake on Thursday, his wife said.

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FROM “EDUCATION WEEK”

Spellings Hints at More Flexibility on NCLB
By Christina A. Samuels and Michelle R. Davis, 3/23/05

Washington - Secretary of Education Margaret Spellings is hinting at some new flexibility for states trying to comply with the No Child Left Behind Act when it comes to students with disabilities and limited English skills, and for making the calculations that determine whether schools and districts will face sanctions.

In a March 13 speech at the Council of the Great City Schools’ annual legislative conference in
Washington, Ms. Spellings stressed there were some issues the Bush administration would not budge on, including the law’s requirement for annual testing in certain grades and the breaking down of data by race, socioeconomic status, and other subgroups.

But since becoming secretary in January, Ms. Spellings has settled long-standing disputes with some states over issues such as teacher-quality requirements and how to determine which school districts qualify as being in need of improvement.

At the conference last week, according to Jeff Simmering, the legislative director for the council, she told attendees that the Department of Education is eyeing ways to make the law less rigid and incorporate suggestions from states with concerns about the provisions on students with disabilities and those learning English.

“She clearly said they were looking at a variety of areas of flexibility,” said Mr. Simmering, whose Washington-based organization represents 65 of the country’s largest urban school districts. She also “made mention” of the idea of a value-added or growth model to help calculate adequate yearly progress under the law, he said.

One issue being considered by the department is the proportion of special education students who can be counted as proficient based on an alternative to their states’ main tests. Under the regulations for the No Child Left Behind law, the test scores of no more than 1 percent of students with significant cognitive disabilities who take alternative assessments count toward a district’s calculation of adequate yearly progress, or AYP. Any students above the cap who are not tested at the grade level in which they are enrolled are considered not proficient for accountability purposes.

Several states have said they would like to see that cap increased, because there are students who must be taught below their normal grade levels but can still show that they have made a year’s worth of educational progress.

John H. Hager, the assistant secretary for the Education Department’s office of special education and rehabilitative services, said that the cap is under study.

“Many states have registered their own version of why they think the system needs altering,” he said in an interview.

Among the states that have asked for waivers is
Virginia, which is requesting that the department do away with any cap.

“These are common-sense adjustments in light of the practical experience gained in three years of implementing No Child Left Behind,” said Charles Pyle, a spokesman for the
Virginia education department.

Texas recently granted appeals to more than 400 school districts that the state now considers to be making AYP even though they did not follow the federal Education Department’s testing standards for students with disabilities. ("Texas Stands Behind Own Testing Rule," Mar. 9, 2005.)

Katherine Beh Neas, the director of congressional affairs for the Chicago-based Easter Seals, an advocacy group for people with disabilities, said her organization would be disappointed at any increase in the 1 percent cap.

“We’ve seen a lot of really good things happen because of that,” Ms. Neas said.

Adding Value?

The Education Department may also be considering giving states more time for some students with limited English skills to meet proficiency requirements. Any such leeway may apply in particular to students who do not speak English at all and have had little formal schooling, said
Scott Palmer, a Washington lawyer who works with states on education policy. ("Federal Data Show Gains On Language," Mar. 23, 2005.)

Districts are also looking for different ways to calculate AYP. Some want the Bush administration to allow them to incorporate value-added models into those calculations. For example, as AYP is calculated now, one school year’s 4th grade reading scores in a district are compared with the next year’s 4th grade scores. The value-added model tracks the same students to see how successful schools are at raising their achievement over the course of a year.

David Shreve, an education lobbyist for the National Conference of State Legislatures, said a student may come into 6th grade on a 3rd grade reading level and make a leap of two grade levels that year.

“AYP doesn’t account for that growth, but a value-added plan does,” he said.
 
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Progress Report on ‘No Child’ Law Shows Hits and Misses
By Joetta L. Sack, 3/23/05

As the No Child Left Behind Act furthers its influence on classrooms, a report scheduled for release this week sounds concerns about impending problems—from a lack of school choice options to inadequate staffing—that could undermine the law.

The third annual report on the federal law by the Center on Education Policy includes surveys of the states and more than 300 districts, charts federal actions on implementation, incorporates the comments of three public panels, and reviews existing research to take a snapshot of the effect the NCLB law has had on achievement and changes in schools nationally.

Although the independent Washington-based research group is pleased with the gains in student achievement, there are some warning signs to heed, according to the center’s director, Patricia F. Sullivan.

She cited what the center views as unrealistic time frames for student achievement and “adequate yearly progress.” Also, the law’s school choice provisions do not appear to have had much effect, Ms. Sullivan said. ("NCLB Guidance,"
Mar. 16, 2005.)

Plenty of Questions

One of the center’s top concerns is capacity, and it warns that many states and districts lack the funding or staff to carry out the law.

Further, Ms. Sullivan added, the center has many questions about the supplemental educational services that districts with failing schools must provide: Are the services working? Are they a good use of funding? And can states oversee the programs?

“Those are questions we are going to have to dig into, because we need more information,” she said.

Researchers say such data are vital to evaluate the effectiveness of the 3-year-old revision of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act and guide lawmakers in their discussions of the measure and any necessary changes.

The center “performs a valuable service by attempting to compile as much information as possible on the impact of No Child Left Behind, in a way few other organizations are doing,” said Wayne Riddle, an education finance specialist for the federal Congressional Research Service.

The U.S. Department of Education declined to comment last week because officials there had not had time to review the 400-plus pages of the document.

Although a majority of states and districts surveyed reported gains in student achievement, it still may be too early to see the full effects of the law’s achievement goals, the report says.

Overall, 36 out of 49 states and 72 percent of the 314 districts surveyed reported that student achievement was improving, and many reported that achievement gaps between minority and white students were narrowing. But many state and district officials interviewed for the study questioned the fairness of the methods they must use to determine adequate yearly progress, and said the goal of having all students proficient in math and reading by 2014 was unrealistic.

The most serious sign of trouble, according to the analysis, is the inability of states and districts to help low-performing schools, both through funding and staffing.

“States and districts told us they lacked capacity to help all schools identified as in need of improvement,” the report says. “They also said they are not prepared to monitor the quality of the entities offering supplemental education services.”

Limited Choice

School choice, meanwhile, may not be making an impression. Districts reported that only about 1 percent of eligible students had transferred from low-performing schools this school year.

Under the law, students in Title I schools deemed to be failing for two consecutive years must be given the opportunity to transfer to another school. They must be offered supplemental services, such as free tutoring, if their schools cannot meet their performance targets for a third year.

Of the districts surveyed, only 3 percent of districts reported that the school choice provisions were having a positive or somewhat positive effect on achievement. More than two-thirds said they didn’t know what effect the provisions have had.

Districts and states also reported experiencing problems in carrying out the school choice provisions, such as being unable to identify the schools needing improvement before the start of the school year and trouble in maintaining class-size limits in schools eligible to receive student transfers. Many districts reported that neighboring districts did not want to accept low-achieving students.

Some districts said they offered supplemental educational services to students unable to transfer.
 
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Math Emerges as Big Hurdle for Teenagers
H.S. Improvement Hinges On ‘Critical’ Subject
By Debra Viadero, 3/23/05

Researchers from the United Negro College Fund went to
West Virginia last year and asked 62 high school dropouts in the federal Job Corps program a simple, open-ended question. “What was it about school,” they wanted to know, “that caused you to quit?”

With surprising consistency, a majority of the participants, most of whom were African-American or Hispanic, gave the same answer: “Math.”

Though the results are not scientific, they point to a challenge that confronts policymakers and educators as they campaign to make American high schools more academically rigorous. Experts agree that if the goal is for all students to graduate from high school ready for college or other postsecondary study, schools have their work cut out for them, at least in mathematics.

The challenge may be particularly daunting, these experts add, when it comes to the kinds of students drawn to training programs like the Job Corps—students who are members of minority groups or those who fall at the lower end of the academic-achievement scale. Yet, they note, the emphasis at the federal level so far has primarily been on improving reading.

“I think, fundamentally, we’re going to find math is more critical than we might have thought it was,” said M. Christopher Brown II, the director of social justice and professional development for the American Educational Research Association, based in
Washington. Mr. Brown spearheaded the not-yet-published West Virginia study when he was the director of the United Negro College Fund’s Frederick D. Patterson Research Institute in Fairfax, Va.

Architects of the push for transforming high schools don’t disagree that the task they face is particularly great in math. But, they add, it’s not a reason to hold back on efforts to ratchet up academic content in high school math classes.

“The problem is this: We have lots of kids coming into high schools who are not yet ready to take rigorous math coursework,” said Michael Cohen, the president of the Washington-based nonprofit group Achieve. Along with President Bush and the nation’s governors, Achieve is calling for improving high schools.

“At the same time,” Mr. Cohen added, “we have to give the kids who are still in high school better than they have now. We just can’t afford to wait until better-prepared students come through the pipeline.”

In the study conducted by the United Negro College Fund, dropouts in the Job Corps who ranged in age from 16 to their mid-20s cited a variety of reasons for their lack of success with high school math. They talked about getting “pushed along” in school despite not having mastered the subject, having poor-quality textbooks, feeling bored, and being taught math by athletic coaches or by teachers whom they considered not “smart.”

Passing Along

“They basically pass students along,” agreed Crystal Collett, 18, a student at
Kansas City Community College in Kansas City, Kan. Although she was not part of the West Virginia study, she found herself taking remedial math upon entering community college.

“In high school, my algebra teacher would give us an assignment and tell us to do the homework,” Ms. Collett recalled in a telephone interview. “The next day, she would give answers on the overhead. I never understood how she did it, and she didn’t show us.”

National statistics bear out observations that high school math is a struggle for many students—not just those who are low-achieving or disadvantaged in some way.

On the 2000 National Assessment of Educational Progress test in math, 17 percent of high school seniors scored at the “proficient” level—just under half the percentage scoring at that level on the NAEP reading test. Twenty-two percent of college freshmen, like Ms. Collett, are identified as needing remedial math, according to the
National Center for Education Statistics.

But the climb to college-level math could be hardest on minority students, many of whom attend schools with fewer resources, less experienced teachers, and more teachers teaching subjects for which they were not trained. Many African-American students are disproportionately assigned to lower-level math classes in high school, sometimes even when they have the grades to do better.

On 12th grade NAEP math tests given in 2000, black and white students were separated by a gap of 34 scale-score points—about the same as in 1990. (Among younger students, mathematics differences on NAEP tests narrowed slightly between black and white students over roughly the same period.)

“It doesn’t matter whether they’re male or female, African-American students do tend to experience mathematics in school in a qualitatively different way than other folks,” said Danny Bernard Martin, an associate professor of mathematics education at the University of Illinois-Chicago.

The “algebra for all” movement begun in the 1990s is a case in point, he said. Prompted by studies showing that algebra was a “gatekeeper” course that paved the way for students to take higher-level math and go on to college, many districts began requiring students to take a first-level algebra course by 8th or 9th grade.

“But ‘algebra’ is not algebra in every location,” Mr. Martin said, noting that many pupils got watered-down versions of the subject. “For many students of color, they may have taken the math requested, and then tried to enter college and tried to enter the workforce and found out they were not prepared.”

“If the country’s serious about this on the mathematics side,” said Robert P. Moses, the civil rights leader who founded the Cambridge, Mass.-based Algebra Project, “it will have to do something very different than it’s doing now.”

What It Takes

Experts agree that, at a minimum, the
United States will have to improve preparation for math teachers at all levels if all students are to be held accountable for reaching higher levels of achievement.

Research is less definitive on what makes for good math instruction at the high school level, particularly for lower-achieving students. Indeed, federal education officials say, the reason the Bush administration has emphasized reading instruction up until now is that research in that subject is further along than studies on math instruction.

The enduring “math wars” are evidence that math educators and mathematicians remain divided, even in their own communities, on the proper focus of math study and how it should be taught.

But the wrong way to go about improving minority students’ math achievement, according to Mr. Moses, is to expand federal testing requirements in high school, as President Bush has proposed for schools taking part in the federal Title I program for disadvantaged students.

Mr. Moses’ fear is that preparing students for such tests leaves little time for them to delve into the deeper concepts that can engage them intellectually.

That view is not shared by all groups working toward educational equity. The Washington-based Education Trust, for one, supports the heavy emphasis on testing embedded in the federal No Child Left Behind Act—in part because it holds schools accountable for raising the test scores of specific subgroups of children, such as African-Americans and Hispanics.

In a report released last fall, the research and advocacy group credited the 3-year-old law with having narrowed math achievement gaps between elementary students in 17 of the 21 states for which its researchers could collect data. ("Report: States See Test-Score Gains,"
Oct. 20, 2004.)

Mr. Moses’ own efforts to improve math education through the Algebra Project have been unusually intense.

At
Lanier High School in Jackson, Miss., a predominantly black, mostly poor school with which Mr. Moses works, students who take part in his program have to agree to take 90 minutes of math instruction five days a week, which is the equivalent of two math courses a year.

Teachers in the project, most of whom follow the same group of students through high school, have common planning periods and teach no more than 70 students a day. The result so far, Mr. Moses said, is that he now has 46 juniors and seniors who have stuck with the program, some of them since 8th grade, and most of whom, he hopes, will be able to enter college without taking remedial math.

But Mr. Moses and the
University of Illinois’ Mr. Martin say that educators also will have to address cultural issues as they try to nudge more minority students into higher-level math courses. Researcher Jacqueline Leonard of Temple University in Philadelphia, for example, integrates math lessons into church Sunday school classes in her community.

“Some of it has to do with the expectations students have about who is supposed to do well in math,” Mr. Martin said.

Mr. Moses deploys “math-literacy workers”—college-age students who were once students in the Algebra Project—as role models in middle and high schools.

“What they could do that I couldn’t do is make it cool to do math,” Mr. Moses said.
 
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Federal Data Show Gains on Language
But Most States Miss English-Learner Goals
By Mary Ann Zehr, 3/23/05

The U.S. Department of Education’s first-ever evaluation of how states are meeting requirements for English-language learners under the federal No Child Left Behind Act can be looked at two ways.

One view of the report, which was released to Congress last week, is that states have made great strides in laying the groundwork for schools to teach English-language learners. That’s the view of Kathleen Leos, the associate deputy secretary and senior policy adviser for the Education Department’s office of English-language acquisition, a researcher for the evaluation.

“Given where the states started, there’s been significant progress made in all states at varying levels,” she said in an interview. The evaluation shows all 50 states plus the
District of Columbia have developed standards for English proficiency and aligned them with their academic-content standards, she noted. Before the 3-year-old law was enacted, only seven states had such standards, and they were not connected to academic content.

“It’s absolutely going to impact instruction in the classroom,” Ms. Leos said.

But another interpretation of the findings in the 503-page evaluation, which covers the 2002-03 and 2003-04 school years, is that states have largely failed to meet the law’s requirements to ensure that English-language learners master academic content. Only two states—
Alabama and Michigan—met “adequate yearly progress,” or AYP, goals last school year for such students in both reading and mathematics.

Moreover, not a single state both reported all the data required by the federal law and met all the mandated targets for English-language learners.

“This report certainly accentuates the positive, and to learn the bad news about how the No Child Left Behind Act is working out, you have to read the fine print of a 503-page report,” said James Crawford, the executive director of the Washington-based National Association for Bilingual Education, who was a reporter for Education Week in the 1980s.

The news, according to Mr. Crawford, “shows that this is a dysfunctional system of accountability. No one has sat down to do the math to see that it’s impossible for most schools with significant numbers of English-language learners to meet their AYP targets as the targets get more stringent. This subgroup by definition will never go very far in meeting the full-proficiency target.”

While states that didn’t make adequate yearly progress goals could lose federal funds, Ms. Leos said the federal government doesn’t plan to punish states for failing to meet requirements for English-language learners, because states have made so much progress in such a short period of time.

The report was released to Congress March 15.

“States should be commended for making significant progress in implementing these provisions in three short years,” said Rep. John A. Boehner, R-Ohio, the chairman of the House education committee, in an e-mail. “However, there is still much work that must be done before we achieve our long-term goals of ensuring all students are proficient in reading and math.”

Two States Stand Out

Though the Education Department’s summary of the evaluation’s findings fails to point out that no state met all of its English-proficiency and academic goals for English-language learners, Ms. Leos acknowledged that conclusion in interviews last week.
 
In addition, the summary provides analysis only for how states met their goals for English proficiency, but not for how the states did at meeting goals for English-language learners in reading and math.

For instance, the summary says that “of the 42 states that provided target and performance data, 33 report meeting at least some of their [annual measurable achievement objective] targets regarding progress in English-language proficiency.” The department counts the
District of Columbia and Puerto Rico as states.

As far as helping second-language learners gain fluency in English, the success rate for states’ achievement of their goals is even better, the department points out: Of the 45 states that provide one or more targets as well as performance data, 41 met some or all of their goals.

The Fine Print

But readers of the report will have to look beyond the summary and wade through more than 400 pages of data about individual states to draw conclusions about the states’ progress in meeting academic goals for English-language learners. The findings are much less impressive than states’ record on helping students learn English.

Buried in the data is the fact that only
Alabama and Michigan met their AYP goals last school year for English-language learners’ test scores in bothreading and math. Alabama set a goal of having half its 11th graders who were tested in math reach the cutoff score for “proficient and advanced.” Michigan set the target of having 33 percent of its 11th graders land in the category of “proficient and advanced,” though each state has different tests.

Mississippi, Missouri, and Virginia met their goals for math, but not for reading. None of the other states met their projected targets for English-language learners in either subject. Altogether, 36 states reported the data fully for math, and the same number of states, though not the same exact group, did so for reading.

“Those who have studied second-language acquisition wouldn’t be surprised by those findings,” said Deborah J. Short, a language researcher at the Washington-based Center for Applied Linguistics. “It takes four, seven, or even nine years for some students to reach academic proficiency.”

Ms. Leos said the Education Department’s decision not to spell out whether states had met AYP goals for English-language learners wasn’t an “edict coming from a political standpoint.” Rather, she said, it was an “internal decision” grounded in a belief that it was hard to make comparisons between states.

“I don’t think you can make any conclusive statements about what achievement gap exists between limited-English-proficient children and native English-speakers,” Ms. Leos said.

Ms. Short countered that the department should have taken a stab at characterizing second-language learners’ academic results in reading and math. Annual testing of 3rd through 8th graders in those subjects is a key gauge of success under the federal law.

“They should have reported how students were doing on math and reading to the extent they could so we could understand the challenges these students face when asked to perform in a language they are not proficient in,” Ms. Short said.

At the same time, she cautioned against reading too much into whether states make their targets or not because each state sets targets differently.

California, for example, reached its goal for helping students attain fluency in English by bringing 38 percent of English-language learners to fluency last school year. Delaware, at the same time, met its goal by having just 5.6 percent of such students attain fluency.

States’ definitions for fluency in English also vary.

New Level of Data

Experts on second-language learners who had read the summary of the evaluation last week said the report reflects positive change for how schools and states view English-language learners.

“The approach in the program suggests that the states or the feds are recognizing that limited-English-proficient kids are here to stay, and they need a systematic approach,” said Charlene Rivera, the executive director of the Center for Equity and Excellence in Education, located at
George Washington University.

“One of the main points of the report is to show Congress the data are being collected,” said Randy Capps, a senior research associate at the Washington-based Urban Institute, who is conducting a study about the impact of the federal education law on English-language learners. He said the federal government has never collected data on such students to the extent that it is now.

Most states had some gaps in the data that they were required to report to the Education Department.

New York, for example, did not provide information on whether it had made AYP for English- language learners in reading. Jonathan Burman, a spokesman for the state education department, said last week that New York was unable to provide the data because of difficulties in matching up test scores used previously with scores on a test introduced last school year.

Elsewhere, Irene Morena,
Arizona’s deputy associate superintendent for English acquisition said in an e-mail message she couldn’t say why data about her state’s targets and student performance in English proficiency didn’t make it into the federal report. It was, she said, submitted to the federal department on time.

Ms. Rivera of the Center for Equity and Excellence in Education said the report was lacking in information that would help states improve instruction in academic content for English-language learners.

“The report doesn’t really discuss how instruction in reading and math and other content areas is being delivered,” she said. “That needs to be thought about more. Language is one thing, but you need to really focus on content.”

The report’s findings show that all states have English-only programs for children to learn the language, while 40 have at least some bilingual education to teach the language. Thirteen states provide assessments in students’ native languages.

An official at the Alabama Department of Education credits teacher training in strategies for working with English-language learners as helping her state meet its academic goals.

“The more we provide professional development, the better off we are,” said Dely Velez Roberts, the state agency’s specialist in English-language learners.

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