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News Clips

News Clips – April 8 - 15 , 2005

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STATE  
Teens lobby in support of sex education bill / Champaign News-Gazette
Education plan misses the higher mark / Decatur Herald & Review
Illinois teachers retiring in droves / Belleville News-Democrat
Gambling, taxes mulled to fill school funding hole / Associated Press
Lawmakers debate property tax relief / Rockford Register Star
Some worry new lottery games would hurt schools / Daily Herald
Teacher retirements may rise / Pantagraph
Illinois Lawsuit Protests No Child Left Behind Act / KSDK-TV, St. Louis
Flider-sponsored bill would deny drivers license to high school dropouts, chronic truants
               
Decatur Herald & Review
Council opposes school district split / Chicago Tribune
Lawmakers pledge to keep fighting IHSA rule change, despite bill's defeat / Daily Southtown
Who wants to be a school board member? SD127½ looking for recruits / Daily Southtown
Day of Silence: Students protest discrimination against gays / DeKalb Daily Chronicle
Feds appropriately budge on NCLB rules / Galesburg Register-Mail

NATIONAL
Workforce needs polish, U.S. businesses declare / Chicago Tribune
Tougher graduation requirements pass / Indianapolis Star
Analysis: New NCLB policy has foes / Washington Times
Worth defending /
Baltimore Sun
Bush administration plays favorites on NCLB / Delaware County Times (PA)
States plug away with NCLB / USA Today
Study Finds Shortcoming in New Law on Education / New York Times
Mandates and mutinies /
Baltimore Sun
Utah officials appear to dig in on No Child rules / Salt Lake Tribune 
Teachers vs. parents: Has it gone too far? / Associated Press
State lawsuit looms against 'No Child Left Behind' act / Derby Valley Gazette (CT)
Education department rejects Va.'s first NCLB waiver request / WAVY-TV (VA)
Audit: Calif. school misspent millions / Boston Globe
Aggressive parents a growing problem for teachers / CNN.com
SAT scores: 2400 is the new 1600 / CNN.com

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STATE

Teens lobby in support of sex education bill
Kate Clements,
Champaign News-Gazette
 
A group of Champaign-Urbana teens visited the Capitol this week in support of legislation to provide grants for schools to teach comprehensive sex education.
 
Ashleigh Corson, 15; Zoe Ginsburg, 17; Zoe Swords, 15; and Annie Fehrenbacher, 17, were among 200 members of Planned Parenthood's Teen Awareness Group (TAG) who came to
Springfield on Wednesday.
 
TAG is a peer-to-peer counseling group that addresses issues of sexuality, pregnancy, sexually transmitted disease, attitudes about gender issues, and relationships. Members receive more than 60 hours of training to help them answer questions and dispel myths among their classmates through one-on-one discussions and group presentations.
 
"So many people are misinformed about their sexual health and how to prevent a pregnancy or sexually transmitted infection," Corson said.
 
The federal government advocates abstinence-only programs and provides money to schools who adopt such curricula.  SB 457 would give schools money to teach a broader range of sexual education topics in addition to abstinence, the TAG members said.
 
"Over half of high school students are having sex, so abstinence-only programs are only catering to half of students, and that's unfair," Ginsburg said.
 
State Sen. Dale Righter, R-Mattoon, opposes the bill and said a long conversation with some of the TAG teens did not alter his position.
 
The number of unwed teen pregnancies in
Illinois has been going down at the same time abstinence-only programs have been increasing, Righter said.
 
"It seems to me that what we are doing with abstinence education is working," Righter said.
 
State Sen. Rick Winkel, R-Urbana, said he had not yet taken a position on the bill.

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Education plan misses the higher mark
Decatur Herald & Review Editorial Staff
 
Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich has proposed what he believes are tougher standards for high school graduation in the state and a plan to increase capacity at current casinos to pay for it.
 
Although the two issues are linked by the governor, they actually should be examined separately.
 
First, the new standards.
 
The governor's plan would require two years of science, two writing-intensive courses, four years of English and three years of math, including algebra and geometry. The governor also wants more high school students to have access to college courses.
 
But these standards won't be new to a lot of school districts. The governor's staff estimates about 60 percent to 70 percent of districts in the state already meet the standards. Many school districts might have to add only one class, for example, an additional year of English, to meet the standards.
 
While the governor is right in focusing on education and higher standards, we wish he would have pushed harder for more advanced standards, standards that would have required more schools to improve their performance.
 
Part of the reason for higher standards is that new graduation requirements take a long time to implement. If approved this year, the new standards would be phased in beginning in 2008, and the full standards wouldn't be applied until 2012. There's a good reason for that: It's unfair to change standards in the middle of a student's high school career.
 
The governor's proposed standards would raise the
Illinois graduation requirements, currently one of the lower in the nation, to about average. The governor's office elected to propose a set of standards it thought it could get through the General Assembly. We understand the political realities of the situation but think there would have been considerable support for even tougher standards.
 
It's a missed opportunity. If the state is going to have the debate about higher standards, why not argue about standards that will be one of the toughest in the nation? Why not demand that of our schools and young people?
 
Now, about the funding.
 
The governor's proposal is to increase the number of slot machines and other games at the state's nine existing riverboat casinos. The expansion is expected to bring in an additional $300 million in revenue, which would be used to fund education.
 
The $300 million wouldn't all go to providing classes for the new standards, the governor also wants schools to provide more advanced classes, art and music classes and college credit classes to high school students.
 
The governor's office is confident of the revenue stream for these expanded positions, but legislators should be skeptical. There are plenty of reports that the state's gambling industry is not doing well, and more machines and games does not necessarily equate to more revenue. The governor's figures may be correct, but the General Assembly should take a good look at them before promising money to the schools.
 
The governor's gambling proposal is more palatable than adding more casinos, however.
 
Taken as a package, it's good that the governor is suggesting higher standards for high school graduation, he just aimed too low. The casino proposal is a good compromise on gambling, but the numbers deserve closer study.

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Illinois teachers retiring in droves
Schools face huge bills and brain drain
By
Ramona Curtis, Belleville News-Democrat

Third-grade teacher Toni Marvich isn't retiring this year because she needs a rest or has exciting travel plans in store.

The 57-year-old
Swansea resident is retiring because of the uncertainty that lies ahead for the state-operated teachers pension plan.

"I'm really not ready to leave teaching, but it would be to my advantage to retire this year under the current plan," she said.

The early retirement option under the Teachers Retirement System of Illinois pension plan protects certified school employees from having their pensions reduced if they retire before age 60.

The law that allows such reductions is scheduled to expire June 30 and is causing a larger number of people to retire this year, hitting state and local school districts with huge bills and creating a brain drain.

"Part of me feels like I was forced into this because I didn't want to take the chance of losing or not getting the most out of my benefits," said Marvich, who teaches at
Abraham Lincoln School in Belleville.

With 325,000 members, the teachers retirement system of
Illinois applies to all certified school employees, such as teachers, librarians, counselors, principals and superintendents. Those employees are eligible to retire as young as age 55, but if a person retires before age 60 and has fewer than 35 years of service in, their annual pension is reduced by as much as 30 percent.

A retiring teacher who is 55 years old, has 30 years of service and makes $60,000 a year, typically would receive a pension of $39,600. But without the early retirement option , that amount would be further reduced by 30 percent to $27,720 annually for the rest of their lives.

Under the early retirement option, retirees can avoid having their pension cut by paying a one-time contribution to the pension system. The contribution, which must be made to the employer, is based on a percentage of a retiree's highest salary.

Without the option, the only way a retiring employee can receive a nonreduced pension is by working until they have 35 years of service in or reach age 60.

According to the Illinois Teacher's Retirement System, the possible end to the early retirement option is the result of state budget woes. The state contributes 8.2 percent of a teacher's calculable salary to the pension plan.

"The overall cost of extending ERO is $870 million over five years," said system spokesman
John Day. "So the argument is, that's a lot of extra pension liability for the state to assume."

The threat of dropping the early retirement option has caused a larger number of teachers to consider retirement this year, according to the Illinois Teacher's Retirement System.

"The application level at this point is about twice it was last year," said Day, a former assistant director of the group.

Day said that last year the pension plan received a total of 4,000 applications by June. This year, more than 5,000 applications already have been received.

"The question is, how many more people will apply? We can't say. But we think it's probable a number more will request applications if the ERO is not extended. Lots of teachers are contemplating leaving so they can still retire with this safety net."

Granite City District 9 personnel director Cynthia Mills said that employees in her district who originally planned to retire later have now decided to retire this year.

"Some people who were scheduled for June 2006 and June 2007 moved their date to June 2005 due to some concerns of the nonrenewal of the ERO," she said.

Mills believes the at-risk provision will result in a statewide shortage of experienced teachers.

"At this point I have 27 people committed to retirement. Last year, I had 29 certified retirements," she said. "That's a lot of experience to leave in two years."

Belleville District 118 has 18 certified employees retiring this year. Last year the district had just five retirements.

Superintendent Jim Rosborg is one of those who is retiring. With 35 years of service, Rosborg said that without the early retirement option, he would have had to work another year because he doesn't turn 55 until September.

But his greatest concern is the impact that losing those experienced teachers has on academics.

"Government rules are pushing good people out of the profession," he said. "While our young teachers have been simply outstanding, you cannot beat a good experienced teacher who has had time to develop the bag of tricks and who knows what works."

Former Cahokia District 187 Superintendent Jed Deets, 55, retired this month and cited the possible nonrenewal of the early retirement option as the reason.

"If I don't retire this year, I may have to work three or four more years," Deets said. "The early retirement option is not likely to be renewed. If that hadn't been the case, I might have stayed on a year at a time."

However, some school officials admit that without the option, financially troubled districts may be able to save money.

"When people use the ERO provision, the district has to match 100 percent of their last salary," said Rosborg.

Belleville District 201 Assistant Superintendent Doug Dahm said that there are two sides to the coin.

"As somebody who is thinking about employees and the hard work they put in, I'd like to see them retire early," he said. "At the same time, I don't like to see the district, my employer, pay for that early retirement."

Dahm, 57, also is retiring this year but said the early retirement option did not factor into his decision because he has 36 years of service. He did, however, call the impending nonrenewal of the option a "huge issue."

So huge, in fact, that some teachers are banding together to go to
Springfield on Wednesday in the hopes of influencing lawmakers to review the law.

"I'm going up with some people from Edwardsville for Blizzard Day," said Jim Price, a science teacher and union official at
Edwardsville High School. "There is going to be a blizzard of teachers who show up to impress upon the legislature just how important we consider this to be."

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Gambling, taxes mulled to fill school funding hole
By John O’Connor, Associated Press Writer

SPRINGFIELD, Ill. (AP) — A day after local voters shot down dozens of schools’ requests for more money, state lawmakers renewed their debate over the best way to increase education spending with the state mired in a budget deficit.

The fundamental differences were clear Wednesday as Gov. Rod Blagojevich and different legislative caucuses clashed over how much money is needed, where to get it and how to spend it.

Senate Republicans criticized a sweeping Democratic “tax swap” plan to raise income taxes and sales taxes while reducing property taxes, calling it rife with opportunities to waste money on other government spending.

Democrat Emil Jones, the Senate president, continued his push for a massive expansion of legalized gambling to funnel money to schools and said a new proposal announced by Blagojevich last week to only allow the nine current casinos to expand doesn’t go far enough. He also favors the tax swap that is meant to lower the burden on local taxpayers.

Blagojevich opposes both ideas.

The Democratic governor has pledged not to raise general taxes. He set aside a different campaign pledge — to not expand gambling — by proposing more slot machines and gambling tables at the existing riverboat casinos that he said would push new education money next year to $440 million.

A special Senate committee on funding reform was the arena Wednesday for advocates to push a tax swap plan. It would collect $7.4 billion by raising income taxes, putting sales taxes on consumer services and ending business tax breaks, then reduce property taxes around the state by $2.4 billion.

“We do a better, more fair job of funding education and the state has the ability to sustain the reforms over time,” said Ralph Martire, director of the Center for Tax and Budget Accountability.

For years, educators, lawmakers and taxpayers have complained that schools rely too heavily on property taxes that vary widely from poorer to more affluent parts of the state. Voters expressed their displeasure Tuesday by saying “no” to 47 of 69 school districts’ requests to increase property tax rates.

An education funding advisory board this week declared that an adequate education costs $6,405 a year. Reaching that would mean boosting the state’s current per-pupil guarantee by 29 percent, at a cost of $2.3 billion more per year.

Sen. James Meeks’ tax swap plan would generate more than $2 billion a year in new money for elementary, secondary and higher education. But the Chicago Democrat’s plan would also bring in $2 billion for other government services that
Illinois has had trouble providing for the past five years as the economy struggled.

Republicans balked at the second part of Meeks’ plan, saying it would encourage unnecessary spending. Sen. Rick Winkel, R-Champaign, has proposed a bill to increase taxes just enough to cover school-funding needs.

The committee discussed the issue for hours but did not vote on either version of the tax swap.

After pouring $860 million more into schools his first two years in office, Blagojevich proposed an increase of only $140 million this year. Pressured to boost that level, the governor last week dropped his opposition to expanding gambling. He called for new positions at existing casinos to pull in $300 million more in riverboat taxes.

“It doesn’t make that much of a dent,” said Senate President Jones.

Jones wants to create at least three new casinos, including one in
Chicago. He said he was encouraged that Blagojevich has opened the door to more gambling after refusing to discuss any ideas for two years.

But Chicago Mayor Richard Daley may have complicated the matter Wednesday by saying education funding and transportation funding are higher priorities for him than a
Chicago casino.

“That’s number one. That’s all we want,” Daley said. “If I don’t get a casino, if the city doesn’t get a casino, so be it.”

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Lawmakers debate property tax relief
Equitable school funding remains a goal.
By Aaron Chambers,
Rockford Register Star

SPRINGFIELD -- Talks about how to raise more money for public education is constant at the Capitol, where each year policy-makers clamor over measures designed to relieve inadequacy and inequity of funding among schools.

The exercise repeated itself Monday before the third hearing of a special Senate committee studying education funding reform. Only this time, the measure at issue would not produce another dime for public schools: It is aimed strictly at alleviating property taxes, which generate the most cash for
Illinois schools.

When the debate turned to the measure's role in the larger context of education funding, it seemed only appropriate that the legislator spearheading tax increases to prop up schools struggled to comprehend what exactly the proposal was designed to accomplish.

Sen. Brad Burzynski, R-Clare, suggested the effort to raise taxes would fail and that his measure was politically feasible. Moreover, he said he wanted to give his constituents what they dearly want: property tax relief.

Burzynski said his measure would not generate more money for schools. Rather, a
School District would rely on local income tax revenue in lieu of a portion of its property tax base. Voters within a School District would need to approve the shift.

"I will be the first to point out that in poorer districts, they're probably not going to adopt a local-option income tax because maybe their local income isn't as great as what their local property values are. So it's not going to benefit some of those districts," Burzynski told the panel.

"But what I would suggest to you is that it will benefit a lot of districts that are both property-rich as well as income-rich. And I think it's a viable option at that time."

Plan questioned

Sen. James Meeks, I-Chicago, wondered how Burzynski's plan fit within the goal of increasing the state support for schools.

Meeks, who tends to vote with Democrats, is sponsoring legislation to raise the state's personal income tax rate from 3 percent to 5 percent and expand the state's sales tax to cover certain consumer services. His legislation would boost state funding for schools while perhaps offsetting property tax pressure across the state.

Meeks credited the state's Education Funding Advisory Board with prompting his push for more tax revenue. Last week, the board urged lawmakers to raise the state's foundation level, which represents the minimum that must be spent on each pupil, from $4,964 to $6,405.

The foundation level increase would mean an additional $2.3 billion in annual state support for schools. School districts with smaller property tax bases would be helped most by such a change.

Meeks wanted to know whether Burzynski's measure would lead to property tax relief in poor communities.

"It could, it would achieve the goal of less property taxes, a property tax reduction, in that community if the community voted to do so," Burzynski said.

"No, the goal that we're discussing is to reach the EFAB recommendation for the foundation level per student," Meeks insisted. "Would your bill achieve that goal?"

"That would be your goal if you agree with EFAB that that's what it costs, No. 1," Burzynski said. "So, no, it wouldn't achieve your goal."

As Meeks pressed Burzynski about how he intended to improve state funding for schools, Burzynski argued that Meeks' plan would not necessarily trigger equity in school funding. He said the current funding formula, which determines the amount of state aid for schools after accounting for the availability of property tax revenue, failed to ensure equitable funding for schools around
Illinois.

"EFAB has never been my goal because I don't necessarily agree with all of EFAB's recommendations," Burzynski said.

"Also, when you take a look at that, senator, in some ways EFAB will cause us to put more money into schools that are getting an already-large amount of their dollars from the state versus putting it into schools that are being supported by their local property taxes."

Dialogue appreciated

Sen. Miguel del Valle, a Chicago Democrat who chairs the education funding panel, applauded the exchange: "This is exactly the type of discussion that we need to be having, an open discussion."

He continued, "Certainly, we don't have consensus on everything here, but we certainly have consensus on the fact that we have too much reliance on local property taxes. That's an area that needs to be changed."

Meeks interjected, "It sounds like we have a consensus that we have to do an income tax increase," and del Valle corrected him.

"I don't think every member of the committee agrees with that," del Valle said. "Obviously Sen. Burzynski does not agree with that if it's not just a straight swap with a local referendum approach."

With his eyes on Meeks, Burzynski shook his head to say no.

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Some worry new lottery games would hurt schools
By Melissa Jenco, Daily Herald
 
SPRINGFIELD — Supporters of breast cancer research and veterans issues envision thousands of Illinoisans who’ve never played the lottery suddenly plopping down a few bucks for tickets.
 
That’s how they expect to raise millions of dollars for their causes. But if their prediction of a surge in lottery players doesn’t pan out, it could be schools that end up shortchanged.
 
On Tuesday, the Illinois House narrowly approved creating a new lottery game to benefit veterans. Lt. Gov. Pat Quinn, who proposed the idea, expects to raise $10 million. Veterans clubs could sell tickets, and the proceeds would assist veterans who need disability pay, are homeless or suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder.
 
Over in the state Senate, members recently approved a similar effort in hopes of raising $15 million over five years to fund services for low-income women with breast cancer.
 
While both causes have widespread support, the choice of the lottery gives some lawmakers pause.
 
First there’s the potential impact on school funding.
 
Currently, for every dollar the lottery brings in, 57 cents goes to winners, 33 cents to schools, 7 cents to retailers and vendors and 3 cents to operating expenses, according to lottery spokesman Courtney Hill.
 
In 2004, the lottery brought in $1.71 billion; of this money, $783 million came from scratch-offs. Schools received $570 million, which constituted about 9 percent of the state’s contribution to schools. Once local property taxes and federal dollars are factored in, the lottery provides only 3 percent of school funding.
 
The lottery began in 1974, but it was not until 10 years later that state law required the profits to go toward schools. However, the lottery money has never been an addition to the other sources. It simply replaced other dollars that lawmakers were then able to use elsewhere.
 
Supporters of both new scratch-offs said they do not expect schools to lose money. Instead, they believe the games will attract new lottery players who want to play specifically to help their causes.
 
But that raises other concerns for some lawmakers. State Rep. Terry Parke, a Hoffman Estates Republican, said the proposal effectively relies on veterans’ losing money to fund their programs. He voted against it.
 
“To get the kind of money that they’re estimating the state will get means that the veterans have got to lose tens of millions of dollars,” Parke said.
 
So far, the Illinois Lottery has not weighed in on this debate. Officials there said they are still reviewing the possible effects of the proposed scratch-off games for breast cancer and veterans.

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Teacher retirements may rise
State will see increase if it cuts program
By
Kurt Erickson, Pantagraph
 
SPRINGFIELD -- Sue Miller's looming retirement will give her more time to golf, read and pursue her talents as a flute player.

But the
Bloomington music teacher's decision to leave the classroom after 20 years wasn't based only on those factors.
 
Rather, like thousands of other veteran teachers in
Illinois, Miller is leaving later this spring because of lingering questions over the future of an early retirement option for teachers.
 
The perk, which protects school workers from having their pensions reduced if they retire early, is set to expire June 30. Talks between lawmakers and the governor continue, but without an extension, the only way a retiring employee can receive a non-reduced pension is by working until they have 35 years of service or reach age 60.
 
"Given the unknowns, retiring now just seemed like the wise thing to do," said Miller, who teaches at
Irving Elementary School.
 
The uncertainty has the Teachers Retirement System of Illinois, which oversees pensions for the state's teachers, preparing to process reams of retirement applications -- perhaps double the 4,400 processed last year -- in the coming months.
 
System spokesman
John Day said the pension system has received 5,000 requests for individual information about retirement benefits.
 
"That's twice the number we'd received at this time last year," said Day.
 
On Wednesday, teachers from across
Illinois are expected to descend on the Statehouse to lobby lawmakers on a number of school-related issues, including the early retirement option.
 
Many of them will tell stories similar to Miller.
 
Although Miller didn't calculate the difference in her retirement without the option, the annual figure could be thousands of dollars.
 
For example, under one scenario, a retiring teacher who is 55 years old, has 30 years of service and makes $60,000 a year usually would receive a pension of $3,300 a month.
 
Without the early retirement option, that amount would be reduced by nearly $1,000 per month.
 
Local school districts also are noticing that many longtime teachers are planning to leave.
 
In
Bloomington, District 87 Assistant Superintendent for Human Resources Barry Reilly said the district usually averages 15 retirements per year. This year, 24 teachers -- out of a total of 390 teachers -- are considering retirement. A handful more could choose to retire if the early retirement option isn't extended.
 
Normal-based Unit 5 Superintendent Alan Chapman called the situation "a potential problem."
 
Of Unit 5's 760 teachers, about 25 have been tagged as retiring. More could jump if the perk isn't extended, Chapman said.
 
"My guess is that every teacher who is potentially eligible is thinking about it," said Chapman.
 
At the Stanford-based
Olympia School District, Superintendent Don Hahn said at least five teachers are set to retire this year, with another five set to go next year. However, if the benefit isn't extended, some teachers may decide to cut their careers short.
 
"That's a little more than usual," said Hahn.
 
Smaller school districts, where there are fewer veteran teachers, are apparently not facing the same situation.
 
At
Tri-Valley School District in Downs, Superintendent Brad Cox expects two teachers to retire. The rest are too young to take advantage of early or regular retirement.
 
Similarly, in
Lexington, Superintendent Brent McArdle said the district has no one retiring this year.

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Illinois Lawsuit Protests No Child Left Behind Act
AP,
4/13/05

STREATOR,
Ill. -- A hearing is planned Friday in a lawsuit filed by three Illinois school districts over the No Child Left Behind Act.

Ottawa's high school and elementary school districts and the Streator elementary district are challenging the federal rule.

Their lawsuit challenges the part of the act that requires 40 percent of students in every sub-group, including special education, to meet state testing standards.

Streator Superintendent Ed Allen says the hearing has been delayed before but it's set to go this week in federal court in
Chicago.

The lawsuit names the U.S. Department of Education and the Illinois State Board of Education as defendants.
  
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Flider-sponsored bill would deny drivers license to high school dropouts, chronic truants
By SHELBY SEBENS,
Decatur Herald & Review Springfield Bureau Writer, 4/15/05

SPRINGFIELD - The state House passed legislation Thursday that would keep high school dropouts and the chronically truant from getting their drivers license or permit.

State Rep. Bob Flider, D-Mount Zion, sponsor of the legislation, said
Decatur schools have seen an increase in truancy and dropout rates.

"What we're doing is setting in motion legislation that would hopefully provide an incentive for kids to stay in school," Flider said. "It would be considered a privilege, not a right. It would show kids that staying in school is the right thing to do."

The proposal exempts students who must leave school to work or have consistent absences for reasons such as health or family problems.

State Rep. David Leitch, R-Peoria, was the lone representative who voted against Flider's measure.

"I think kids who are dropping out of schools have a lot more problems than whether or not they're going to be able to drive legally," Leitch said. He said it will put kids back into the criminal system because they will drive regardless.

Leitch said working with alternative and vocational schools would be more effective.

The proposal passed the House 115-1 and now goes to the Senate.

In other action, the House passed legislation creating the Eastern Illinois Economic Authority.

The authority would cover Ford, Iroquois, Piatt,
Champaign, Vermillion, Douglas, Moultrie, Shelby, Coles and Edgar counties.

This legislation is similar to what was passed last year for
Southeastern Illinois. The authority, managed by a 14-member board, will be able to issue, lease or dispose of property and issue bonds adding up to $250 million.

However, House Bill 690 would give fewer board appointments to Gov Rod Blagojevich.

"We decided that we were better off letting local people decide who should best serve the economic development in the local area," said state Rep. Roger Eddy, R-Hutsonville. "The people who are on the hook are taking the risk and not the state of
Illinois."

Eddy said giving local governments this authority will increase jobs in the area.

The proposal passed the House 117-0 and now goes to the Senate.
 
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Council opposes school district split
Amanda Marrazzo,
Chicago Tribune, 4/15/05

ELGIN -- The Elgin City Council approved a resolution this week to support efforts to keep Elgin-based School District U-46 intact.

Bartlett, Wayne, Carol Stream and unincorporated West Chicago are seeking to form a separate district.

Elgin Mayor Ed Schock thought an independent study would help determine the city's position. But council members disagreed and decided to support U-46 officials.

"I am saddened by the fact that municipal leaders would take a stance without all of the information," said Catherine Melchert,
Bartlett village president. "They clearly know that the state of education in U-46 has problems that need to be addressed throughout the district."

The disconnection would result in the loss of tax dollars and about 11,000 students from one high school, one middle school and nine elementary schools,
Elgin officials said.

Bartlett has been holding town meetings on the topic. The next meeting will be at 7 p.m. May 2 in Bartlett Hills Country Club, 800 W. Oneida Ave.
 
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Lawmakers pledge to keep fighting IHSA rule change, despite bill's defeat
By Mary Tallon, Associated Press, 4/15/05

SPRINGFIELD, Ill. — Legislation protecting private schools from tougher competition in sports championships failed in an Illinois House committee Thursday, but lawmakers say they will continue to fight.

Undeterred by the bill's defeat, a bipartisan group of about 20 lawmakers said they would move ahead with a resolution that would ask the state's auditor general to audit the Illinois High School Association.

The bill, which would have barred the IHSA from enforcing a new rule requiring private schools to compete against larger public schools, was defeated
4 to 6 in the House Elementary and Secondary Education Committee.

Supporters of the IHSA plan contend private schools have been winning a disproportionate number of state titles. They say that's partly because private schools have more flexibility in recruiting students.

But private schools say they win because of good coaching, established programs and solid parent support. They are concerned the new rules penalize successful schools.

"I think it's discriminatory what they're doing to us," said the bill's sponsor, Rep. Pat Verschoore (D-Milan) whose district includes the
Catholic Rock Island Alleman High School.

The rule change means private schools with more than 450 students will be treated as if they have larger enrollments when it comes to deciding what class of schools they will compete against for IHSA titles. Fifteen teams would move up one class in the eight-class football playoffs and three teams would move up two classes under the change.

The IHSA is independent of state government, but critics say an audit is warranted because it includes tax-funded schools and because it's not clear how the IHSA decided to change rules for private schools.

Kurt Gibson, assistant director of the IHSA, said it is not the first time lawmakers have tried to influence the association's policy.

Lawmakers in the past caused the association to be audited because of changes to the girls basketball championship, and they tried to prevent the boys basketball championship from moving to
Peoria from Champaign about 10 years ago, but it moved anyway.

"Any time that we take an action to address how our tournament is set up it seems to get a lot of attention," Gibson said.

In addition to seeking an audit, the lawmakers are pushing a resolution urging the IHSA to delay the new rule in state tournaments until 2007 because schools often set their sports schedules two years in advance and teams need time to prepare for the rule.

Finally, lawmakers want to establish a task force of lawmakers and private citizens to explore the creation of a sports association that would rival the IHSA.

Some public school administrators say they are angry that lawmakers are spending their time policing the IHSA when most districts are having serious problems balancing their budgets.

"There's a lot bigger issues out there in education,"
Morris Community High School principal Pat Halloran said at a news conference to support the IHSA.
 
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Who wants to be a school board member? SD127½ looking for recruits
By Marcus K. Garner, Daily Southtown, Staff writer, 4/15/05
 
Wanted: People who care about educating Chicago Ridge public school students. Must have a desire to work and a flexible schedule.

Chicago Ridge School District 127½ has an open seat on its board despite attracting a write-in candidate in the election April 5. Another seat could become available as soon as May.

"We're looking for people who have a sincere interest in children and the district and have a passion for education," Supt. Bernard Jumbeck said.

"When you sign up to be board member, you sign up to take on the fight for kids."

Jamie Albon and Louise Koehler, a write-in candidate, will be sworn in April 20 after the school board canvasses its election results.

One board seat will remain open because three members didn't seek re-election. The board typically has seven members.

The district has begun soliciting applications from eligible Chicago Ridge residents.

"We're looking for any dedicated person willing to be open-minded and do the necessary homework," said board president Lisa Demma.

The board has 45 days after votes are canvassed to appoint a member to the two-year vacancy.

Applicants must be registered voters, at least 18 years old, and have been a resident of the district for at least one year. The six board members will review all applications and interview each prospective new member.

Demma, an eight-year board member, warned that the job is unpaid and extends beyond the twice-a-month meetings.

"There are letter-writing campaigns and phone calls that we make to get money into our district," she said. "And there's lobbying breakfasts once or twice a year. That means taking time off to go to
Springfield."

The district was one of four in the Southland that began the election season with a shortage of candidates.
Ridgeland School District 122, Oak Lawn-Hometown School District 123, and Homer School District 33C each had blank spaces on their ballots.

But only District 127½ was unable to attract enough write-in candidates to fill its board.

"We're asking a lot of them," Jumbeck said. "Board members have to grapple with funding issues, unfunded mandates and labor negotiations. You're asking people to give up time with their families and their jobs."

School board member and Chicago Ridge village Trustee-elect Brad Grove said he plans to give up his school board seat, but isn't sure when.

"Earlier, I had expected negotiations with our teachers and support staff to be done by the end of school," Grove said. "Now, it looks like that might be closer to the beginning of school in the fall. But since I've been involved, I want to finish before I step down."

Jumbeck said a member of the district's Parent-Teacher Association recently inquired about applying for the board appointment.

He said the inquiry offered hope the board will have some excellent candidates. Outgoing members Donna Betsanes and Heather Bergman once were PTA presidents.

"The PTA has been a very good farm system for our board," Jumbeck said.
 
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Day of Silence: Students protest discrimination against gays
By Renee Messacar, DeKalb Daily Chronicle Staff Writer, 4/14/05

DeKALB - Gay-support groups at
DeKalb High School and Northern Illinois University sent their peers a message Wednesday - without even speaking a word - that intolerance is unacceptable.

Members and supporters of the high school's Gay Straight Alliance and the university's Prism participated in the national Day of Silence held through the Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network, a national organization whose goal is to increase education about homosexuality, and the United States Student Organization, a student-led lobbying group.

Students refused to speak throughout the day and handed out information explaining that this was to protest discrimination against gays.

"It's to raise awareness in how lesbians, gays and transgendered people are silenced in their daily lives," said Margie Cook, coordinator of the university's Lesbian, Gay,
Bisexual Transgender Resource Center. "They are silent out of fear of prejudice and discrimination or of actual physical harm. It is to make a point that their silence is a loss to them and society."

The high school's GSA sold nearly 80 T-shirts for the day, and roughly 100 people participated, said group adviser Margaret Jankauskis. This was the school's fourth year participating, and support has grown each year.

DeKalb High School students Sarah Hittle (from left), Morgan Miller, Gina Ferrari and Sarah Shipman talk during a pizza party Wednesday at the end of the national Day of Silence -- an event to raise awareness of discrimination against gay and lesbian students. Chronicle photo HOLLY LUNDH 
 
After school, the group "broke the silence" and members discussed their experiences throughout the day.

"Some people didn't understand what it was and they'd try to get us to talk during the day," said Ian Witzel, a junior, at the group's meeting after school. Most other classmates were understanding and even supportive, he said.

Kadie Threloff, a junior and GSA member, said she was pleased to see all the support.

"I was surprised pretty much every (T-shirt) sold," she said. "And I saw some people wearing the shirts who I didn't expect to participate. Many teachers had shirts too."

The T-shirts, which explained the event's purpose, sold at $6 apiece.

Jankauskis said the event is important because it lets students see that many of their peers support them and that they are not alone. Seeing teachers wear the shirts also gives students who might be questioning their sexuality the feeling of having "safe zones" where they can express themselves.

Feeling safe and supported in high school can be hard to come by for students who feel they don't fit in, Threloff said.

"When walking down the hallway, you hear people whisper or say, 'Fag,' and you try to brush it off," she said. "But the comment hits you deeper because that's who you are."

Sophomore Sarah Shipman said she's learned to brush off negative comments.

For her, though, the difficult part of the event is not speaking - she accidentally spoke three times Wednesday. She said it was especially challenging to remain silent when people made comments or asked questions about the day, such as "Why don't straight people get a day of silence?"

"Because straight people aren't in the closet," she said later.

Cook said the event went well on campus.

"Mostly it's been a good awareness-raising tool for us," she said. "I can't recall any particularly negative reactions."

Prism members, who wore black clothing and stickers explaining what they were doing, stood on the Martin Luther King Commons for four hours Wednesday, handing out leaflets and holding signs.

The group, which has participated in the Day of Silence since 1997, was to meet at
9 p.m. Wednesday to break the silence and discuss the day's events.

University of Virginia students started the day in 1996, and it became a national event the following year, according to the Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network's Web site.

Last year, more than 450,000 students from elementary school through college participated, according to the Web site.
 
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Feds appropriately budge on NCLB rules
Galesburg Register-Mail Editorial by Don Cooper, publisher,
4/14/05

What does it take to move the federal bureaucracy? It appears that a lawsuit, hundreds of complaints from school districts and a few editorials at least made it budge. The question is: Did it move enough?

This week Galesburg District 205 administrators told the school board that they decided against becoming part of a lawsuit filed by
Ottawa Township High School against the U.S. Department of Education. The administration's decision was a reversal from its previous position. For more than two months, it had pushed joining the lawsuit. It was going to cost an estimated $10,000 for Galesburg to get involved.

What changed? In the showdown between federal bureaucrats and local school districts, the feds blinked. Or was that a wink?

At issue in the
Ottawa district's lawsuit is how the rules in the federal No Child Left Behind Act are applied to special education students.

No Child Left Behind requires schools to give standarized tests to students each year. The results are judged against federal standards designed to make sure schools are educating all students. Not only must individual schools and districts meet the standards, but particular "sub-groups," such as minorities, bilingual students and special education students, also must pass. If one of the sub-groups falls short, the entire district fails.

That's a problem for Galesburg District 205. While the district showed improving scores and met the standards overall, the special education sub-group didn't for the second year. Because it failed to make "adequate yearly progress" in the special needs sub-group,
Galesburg is on the state's academic early warning list.

Galesburg isn't alone. About 230 Illinois school districts have the same problem. There may be thousands of similarly situated districts across the country.

Special education students will never measure up to their peers. By definition, they need help and extra attention. They often do poorly on standardized tests designed to measure the general student population. The special education sub-group is significant here, making up about 15 percent of the district's students.

Last week the federal government changed the No Child Left Behind rules, giving schools more flexibility in meeting the standards. Schools will be allowed to identify students with "persistent academic disabilities" and set separate goals for them. Tests for those students will be modified. Up to 2 percent of a school or district's enrollment can be tested against the modified standards. Previously, all but 1 percent of students with disabilities took the same tests as other students in their grade level.

"We think they are moving in the right direction," Superintendent Neil Sappington said.

Joel Estes, director of curriculum and instruction in District 205, said the changes are a sign the federal government has heard the criticism and is willing to make adjustments.

Are the adjustments enough? The federal government budged, but not much. Does allowing 2 percent of a district's students to take a modified test when 15 percent or more are in special education really solve the problem?

Given the change in the federal rules, District 205 administrators are right to back away from spending $10,000 to join the
Ottawa lawsuit. The feds budged. Time will tell if it was enough to make a difference.
 
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===========================================================================

NATIONAL

Workforce needs polish,
U.S. businesses declare
`Soft skills' such as punctuality lacking, employers, unions say
Leon Lazaroff, Chicago Tribune national correspondent
 
BROOKLYN, N.Y. -- As lawmakers and educators struggle to improve high schools in the U.S., businesses and labor unions say they are alarmed that even job seekers with a diploma can't function in the workplace.
 
It's a problem, they say, that threatens to cripple American productivity at home and competition abroad.
 
Discouraged by the work habits of many new employees, a handful of states, led by
New York, are working to create a nationally recognized "work readiness" credential. Proponents say the credential would certify that a prospective employee understands the importance of "soft skills" such as punctuality, a willingness to accept supervision and an ability to work in a group.
 
"You'd think people would know to call in sick when they're not coming to work, but that's not always the case," said Michael Kauffman, an executive at Anoplate Corp., a 175-person metal manufacturer in
Syracuse. "We're having many more problems than in the past getting people who understand what it means to work in an office or a factory."
 
At a state job-training and education center in
Brooklyn, New York's Workforce Investment Board recently began testing a "work readiness" exam developed by SRI International , a research group based in California. Tests will also be held in Florida, New Jersey, Washington and Rhode Island, as well as the District of Columbia, which all contributed funds to develop the exam.
 
Job seekers enrolled at the
Brooklyn Educational Opportunity Center will be given a two- to three-hour exam that will check for reading and math skills in addition to speaking and listening habits. They will also be given "situational judgment" questions to gauge probable work performance.
 
Organizers say the credential should be ready by spring 2006 and would be administered by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce in conjunction with local chapters and state agencies. Whether it would be required for high school students, said the Chamber's Sondra Stein, would be up to individual states.
 
Aaron Harewood, 20, entered the
Brooklyn center last year after graduating from George Wingate High School, one of seven Brooklyn high schools scheduled to close in June 2006 after the state Department of Education classified it as "low performing."
 
Harewood, who has never had a job and is studying to receive a certificate at the center in computer technology, said a work readiness credential would probably help him find employment.
 
"In high school, they only focused on the work you normally do in college--not on work skills," he said. "You realize afterward that it would have been nice if you'd ever been aware of all this so when you face the real world you wouldn't be so unprepared."
 
The test, its proponents say, would also be used to evaluate job-training programs like the
Brooklyn center that receive federal and state funding.
 
Adding to curriculum
 
In
Illinois, the Chicago Public Schools' Office of Education To Careers has campaigned for the state to join the fledgling national effort.
 
Jill Wine-Banks, the program's director and a former Maytag Corp. and Motorola Inc. executive, joined the city's school system two years ago with a mandate to incorporate "work readiness" skills into the high school curriculum. Since September, she says 60
Chicago high schools with about 55,000 students have begun to use short videos and workshops in classes as a means to discuss how to negotiate with a co-worker, speak to a client or carefully follow directions.
 
"Unions and business leaders told us we were doing a good job training students in technical areas but that it was these `soft skills' that we take for granted that they were missing," Wine-Banks said.
 
In November, at Wine-Banks' invitation, the director of a federal program called Equipped for the Future, which has spearheaded a "work readiness" credential, met with members of the Chicagoland Chamber of Commerce and the Chicago Workforce Board to gather statewide support for the certificate.
 
Illinois has yet to decide whether to endorse the credential.
 
Julio Rodriguez of the Bureau of Workforce Development at the Illinois Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity, said
Illinois already teaches job readiness through its One-Stop Career Centers, local offices that coordinate federal and state employment services.
 
"Behavioral skills are hard to quantify," he said. "We're all kind of watching [the pilot tests] to see what develops."
 
Chamber takes over
 
Last month, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce took over responsibility for Equipped for the Future, hiring the Department of Labor official who had previously administered it.
 
With the chamber as the project's sponsor, Sherryl Weems, executive director of the
Educational Opportunity Center at the University of Buffalo, said she is optimistic that more states will endorse the credential.
 
"We didn't want this to be a labor or education thing but rather to be an employer thing," she said. "So, it made sense for the chamber to act as an umbrella."
 
Skeptics of a work readiness credential warn that it could distract students and educators away from "hard skills."
 
In
Virginia, Gov. Mark Warner has taken a slightly different approach to the problem. Warner helped create a Career Readiness Certificate, which tests for math, applied math and reading for information but leaves out soft skills. Three states in addition to Virginia use the certificate, which is administered by WorkKeys, a program of ACT Inc., the Iowa City-based research group.
 
Barbara Bolin, Warner's special adviser on workforce development, said she is skeptical of the chamber's project. Like
Illinois' Rodriguez, she says soft skills would be "extraordinarily difficult to assess."
 
Others caution against integrating new programs into high school curricula.
 
"Schools should be focused on getting kids to read, and these other things like understanding authority and showing up on time will take care of themselves," said Jay Greene, a senior fellow at the Manhattan Institute for Policy Research, a
New York City think tank.
 
No guarantee
 
But Phyllis Eisen of the Washington, D.C.-based National Association of Manufacturers, counters that while schools should always focus first on hard skills, those alone are no guarantee that younger workers can move into high-tech factory jobs.
 
She pointed to a 2001 National Association of Manufacturers survey of its members, later dubbed the "Skills Gap," as support for a work readiness credential.
 
Employers surveyed in the study reported that while 32 percent of job applicants possessed inadequate reading and writing skills, 69 percent lacked basic employability skills such as reading with understanding, speaking clearly, actively listening and resolving conflict.
 
"It's not an either-or proposition," Eisen said, referring to hard and soft skills. "For generations, the historic advantage of the
U.S. economy was its skilled workforce, and right now, that's slipping away."
 
While the AFL-CIO and National Association of Manufacturers have clashed over wage issues and foreign trade, Paul Cole, secretary-treasurer of the New York State AFL-CIO says the two groups agree that a more efficient and higher-skilled workforce can ensure that well-paying jobs are not exported.
 
"If we infuse education and job-training with an emphasis on `employability skills,' then we develop workers who not only can get jobs, they can keep them as well," he said.
 
That's a point that resonates with Ana Rosado, 20, who dropped out in 9th grade and now studies at the
Brooklyn Educational Opportunity Center.
 
"If you're not punctual or [don't] communicate well, you're not going to stay employed," she said. "I'd like to work a while and afterward I would like to go to college."
 
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Tougher graduation requirements pass
Governor expected to sign Core 40 bill, which would take effect with Class of '11.
Staci Hupp,
Indianapolis Star
 
High school is about to get harder for Hoosier children under one of this year's most ground-breaking education proposals, which the governor is expected to sign into law.
 
What's billed as the largest jump in high school graduation requirements in a decade would start with this year's sixth-graders,
Indiana's high school Class of 2011.
 
"I clearly think this is one of the biggest issues" in education this session, said Stan Jones, the state's higher education commissioner. "It really moves the state forward."
 
The Core 40 bill passed the Senate, 33-16, on Thursday after some minor changes. An aide to the governor said Friday that Mitch Daniels supports it.
 
Class work would become more demanding for students, although children who struggle under the Core 40 diploma program could opt out. But admission to the state's four-year public universities would hinge on the tougher diploma.
 
Right now, Core 40 is simply an option, of which about 65 percent of high school students take advantagePolicy-makers are consumed with high school education right now, with a federal push for improvement and Core 40-like proposals in
Iowa, Illinois and other states.
 
Indiana started out in front of the trend with its nationally acclaimed Core 40 diploma program a decade ago. The idea was to make sure Hoosiers leave high school with the skills they need for college or other post-secondary training. About 40 percent of college freshmen nationwide start out taking at least one remedial class, Jones said.
 
Senate Bill 200 hit a few rough patches along the way, including resistance from education lobbyists who didn't think the state should demand more out of students without giving schools more money.
 
Of 333 high schools, almost 200 fall below the state average percentage of students earning Core 40 diplomas, according to the Indiana Urban Schools Association. Most of those schools are in rural areas.
 
Education lobbyists said the Core 40 diploma program was valuable to
Indiana. But "it's a costly item for the state," said Chuck Little, director of the urban schools association. "At a time when there's no money, we shouldn't be adding costs."
 
Little's group estimated salaries for additional teachers across the state would cost $47 million a year if 85 percent of students take the tougher curriculum.
 
The bill's supporters emphasized that the two-year window between now and when the law would apply to high school students would give schools time to prepare.
 
"Obviously the school districts don't have to produce this tomorrow," said Sen. Teresa Lubbers, R-Indianapolis, who sponsored the bill. "I think this sends the right signals to our students in
Indiana that they need this kind of curriculum for work or for college or for life."
 
The minor changes passed Thursday include a call for a state Department of Education study of whether the plan would lead to shortages of math and science teachers, as opponents contend.
 
In addition, the bill now calls for school counselors to meet with parents if a student fails three Core 40 classes or scores poorly on the Indiana Statewide Testing for Educational Progress-Plus, the annual statewide exam.
 
Ball State and Indiana State universities and the University of Southern Indiana require Core 40 for admission. Indiana and Purdue universities plan to adopt it soon.
 
Business groups also back the plan. The Indiana Building Trades Council, for example, says students in apprentice programs will need algebra, trigonometry and other high-level classes.
 
Dee Vincent, a
Jennings County mother of six, supports the bill. All of Vincent's children, who range in age from 17 to 28, have taken Core 40 classes.
 
"It gave them a jump in the sense that there is a huge difference from high school to college," said Vincent, of
North Vernon. "I just believe it has better prepared my kids."

Core 40 requirements
Here are some of the requirements of a Core 40 high school diploma:
• Language: Eight credits (four years) of English/language arts
• Math: Six credits (three years)
• Science: Six credits (three years)
• Social studies: Six credits (three years)
• Other: Five credits of world languages, fine arts, career/technical courses 
 
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Analysis: New NCLB policy has foes / Washington Times
By Les Kjos, United Press International,
4/8/05

Miami, FL, -- The announcement of the administration's more reasonable approach to education reform comes in the face of strong criticism by about 30 states, and at least two of them aren't backing down.

The Utah Legislature intends to go ahead with a special session April 10-20 to consider a bill to prioritize state standards ahead of standards mandated by the No Child Left Behind law.

Connecticut Attorney General Richard Blumenthal plans to proceed with a suit he announced Tuesday challenging the Department of Education for its failure to provide enough money for the 2001 education-reform act.

Many other states that had voiced unhappiness with NCLB -- such as
Washington and Wyoming -- applauded the changes.

Education Secretary Margaret Spellings announced the new guidelines in
Mount Vernon, Va., Thursday.

Under the new policies Spellings said her department can consider factors other than test scores in assessing school success. Those factors would include such things as graduation and dropout rates.

She also said schools could test 3 percent of students with disabilities on their own level instead of only 1 percent as mandated now. The same improvement standard will apply, and an additional $14 million will be spent on the assessments.

She said the core of the new policy will provide states more alternatives and flexibility if they can show they are raising student achievement and closing the achievement gap -- in other words, buying into NCLB.

"We have learned a lot over the last three years as our infant law has matured, and those past three years have helped us be smarter about how this law is working in the schools," she said.

Spellings said it is the results that truly matter, not the bureaucratic path taken to reach them.

"Think of this new policy as an equation: The principles of the law, such as annual testing and reporting of subgroup data, plus student achievement and a narrowing of the achievement gap, plus overall sound state education policies, equals a new, common sense approach to implementation of No Child Left Behind," she said.

Questions remain on whether the objective decisions on flexibility for states perceived as buying into NCLB will lead to favoritism by the Education Department.

Yet the speech at the George Washington estate produced praise from some unlikely quarters, including the nation's two major teachers' unions.

Edward J. McElroy, president of the American Federation of Teachers, said he applauded Spellings' statement as "a small step forward and a welcome acknowledgment that the law has serious flaws which must be addressed if we really want to leave no child behind.

"The decision to allow more students with disabilities to take alternative assessments, for example, will help make the law's accountability system fairer and more accurate," McElroy said.

"The addition of funds to improve assessments, although far short of what is needed, will provide at least some help for states seeking to get a measure of student achievement," he said.

Reg Weaver, president of the National Education Association, the larger of the two unions, also applauded the department's efforts to make "common sense improvements" to the law.

"NEA urges Secretary Spellings to make these and other recent rule changes retroactive to ensure that schools are not inaccurately and unfairly labeled as 'in need of improvement,'" he said.

Although the Republican-dominated Utah Legislature is still planning its special session, some hesitation in its take-no-prisoners assault on NCLB is beginning to appear.

Last year the Legislature considered a bill to opt out of NCLB completely, but it failed when the federal government warned $106 million was at stake.

A bill this year would direct
Utah school officials to consider state laws and regulations over any federal mandates when they make educational decisions.

That bill roared through the Legislature, but Gov. John Huntsman and leaders in the state House and Senate decided to delay final action until a special session in order to provide more time for negotiation.

That negotiation will come next Friday when Spellman visits
Utah.

In
Connecticut, state officials stood their ground.

"Nothing in all of (the) verbiage corrects the key legal lapse: By the law's clear terms, no mandate means no mandate, if it's unfunded," said state Attorney General Richard Blumenthal. "And unfortunately, the real losers are our children."

The Connecticut Department of Education completed a study that found NCLB costs to the state would exceed federal funding by $41.6 million through 2008 and by hundreds of millions more to the school districts.

The new guidelines still require annual testing in the third through eighth grades and the 10th grade.
Connecticut tests in grades four, six, eight and 10.

The state asked the U.S. Education Department for an exemption, but the request was rejected.

Three members of
Connecticut's eight-member U.S. congressional delegation -- Democrats Sen. Chris Dodd and Rep. Rose DeLauro and Republican Rob Simmons -- have introduced bills to reform NCLB.
 
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Worth defending
Opinion by Andy Smarick, director of the Charter School Leadership Council and a member of the Governor's Commission on Quality Education, Baltimore Sun, 4/10/05
 
Though a magnet for criticism throughout its three-year history, the No Child Left Behind law is under attack today as never before.

Connecticut just announced plans to file a federal lawsuit claiming NCLB is an unfunded mandate, and Utah may forgo millions in federal funds to avoid the law's accountability requirements. In response to these challenges and others, the U.S. Education Department is changing the way it administers fundamental provisions in the law, and Education Secretary Margaret Spellings pledged Thursday to be more flexible in enforcing the law.

This pattern is regrettable.

For decades, states were not held accountable for the billions in federal education dollars they received. So despite the doubling of education spending between 1970 and 2000, student achievement, however measured, remained flat and low.

In 2003, nearly 40 percent of our nation's fourth-graders were reading at the "below basic" level. Worse, the achievement gap between low-income and minority students and their peers remained staggeringly large.

These problems persisted even though most states implemented significant education reforms throughout the 1980s and 1990s.

NCLB was the federal response, an effort to narrow the achievement gap, provide options to children in failing schools and ensure that future federal funds were well spent.

As a congressional aide during the deliberations of NCLB, I saw members of both parties struggle to find the delicate balance between using federal power to instigate needed change and respecting the states' historical authority over education.

But in a recently released report that drastically expands the war against NCLB, the National Conference of State Legislatures charges that NCLB unconstitutionally intrudes on K-12 policy and must cease immediately.

This report is politically significant because it represents the consensus of the legislatures of 50 states. It's also significant as a matter of policy because it ignores the states' previous inability to fix public education.

Maryland's education leadership deserves credit for not enlisting in this war against NCLB and instead dedicating its energy to improving student performance. From its slogan - "achievement matters most" - to its leadership on assessments, to its use of innovative strategies to improve some of Baltimore's worst schools, the state Department of Education has shown that its heart, mind and elbow grease are in the right place.

With that said, there is still enormous work to be done in
Maryland. My concern is that the widening anti-NCLB fever could prove contagious and encourage some in our state to buck the spirit or letter of the law.

Indeed, the symptoms are already there. The president of the state legislative group and a member of its NCLB committee are both members of the Maryland House of Delegates.

So, to those Marylanders hostile or ambivalent to NCLB, please keep three things in mind:

- Assessments identify problems. The point isn't testing for its own sake. Because of standardized tests, we know that less than half of
Maryland's eighth-graders are proficient in math and that in Baltimore, two out of three black 10th-graders cannot read proficiently. Even in high-performing school districts such as Howard County, a low-income fifth-grader is four times more likely to read at the lowest level. NCLB's required student-level tests are a critical component of reform.

- Though invaluable, assessments aren't enough. As the saying goes, "Weighing the pig doesn't make it fatter."
Maryland has had nationally recognized assessments for 15 years that have shed light on the performance of our districts, schools and student groups. Yet that information hasn't translated into desired results.

Despite being one of the nation's wealthiest and most-educated states and spending above average on schools,
Maryland's reading and math scores are not statistically different from the national average. Our racial achievement gap is the same as the national average, and our low-income students are among the lowest-performing in the nation. NCLB requires data to be used to continually improve all schools and mandates swift action to fix those that are failing.

- Children in failing schools deserve other options. While several persistently failing
Maryland schools have been reconstituted in recent years, countless others have simply languished, untouched by reform. NCLB gives their students the right to transfer to a higher-performing school or receive federally funded tutoring. This year, more than 60,000 Maryland children - 40,000 in Baltimore alone - are in failing schools. Take away NCLB and the alternatives for these kids are taken away.
To be fair, the report by the states' legislators is not all bad, and NCLB isn't perfect. But NCLB was a response to the states' inability to take the tough steps needed to improve public schooling. And the state legislatures' "leave us alone, we'll take care of it" posture represents a step backward.

Maryland should reject the contempt for NCLB, now so fashionable elsewhere, and continue to embrace the law's commitment to improved academic achievement for all our children.
 
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Bush administration plays favorites on NCLB
Delaware County Times Editorial, 4/10/05

Remember the teacher’s pet? It was the kid who got straight A’s and the teacher always had a way of reminding the rest of the class how superior that kid sitting up front was. The White House is playing a similar game, only this one deals with favored states.

In a bit of political gamesmanship, the Department of Education is promising to go easy on certain states in enforcing portions of the No Child Left Behind Act if they continue to show upward progress.
  
That sounds practical until you look a little closer.

The complaint most state education and local school officials have about No Child Left Behind and the requisite testing -- such as the just-administered PSSA tests in our local schools -- is that whole scoring includes special-needs students.

The schools argue that by including special-needs students’ scores in their totals, the numbers drop and put them in danger of losing funding and other penalties as prescribed by the NCLB Act.

What happened in
Washington this week is a way of softening or relaxing the rules for the benefit of some states. Federal education officials are saying they will be more "flexible" by allowing tests to be presented in a different way to special-needs students or allow tests to be based on a different academic level, appropriate to the individual student. This is a bureaucratic talk for watering down the test for those at the lower levels.

This amounts to changing the ground rules halfway through the game.

It’s a concern since the federal Education Department has been adamant about standardized tests for all segments of the school population in order to get a reading on how each school, each district, each state is performing.

To change the rules admits the original premise was wrong and school officials, at the local level especially, were right in their vehement opposition to so many portions of the No Child Left Behind Act.

It also makes you wonder how many other points of the NCLB Act ought to be eased or revisited for a fairer picture of our nation’s schools.
 
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States plug away with NCLB
By Greg Toppo,
USA Today, 4/12/05

MONTREAL — Over the past decade, school districts have been experimenting with hard-nosed reforms similar to those in President Bush's No Child Left Behind education law and getting mixed results, according to research presented Tuesday.

The findings by two University of California researchers suggest that reforms such as restaffing, closing and taking over low-performing schools may not always deliver better results for students than more low-key solutions.

Under NCLB, schools that don't improve reading and math test scores over five consecutive years face the threat of a number of stiff penalties, generally chosen by state officials. The sanctions include state takeover, replacing principals and teachers, handing the school over to a for-profit company or reopening it as a charter school.

The study, presented at the American Educational Research Association's annual meeting here, found that most of these changes haven't proved any better than other ideas.

Researchers looked at seven states and two urban school districts that for years have been trying the methods that NCLB adopted in 2002. They found that results decidedly were mixed. For instance, many schools in
California that were restaffed showed up again on low-performing lists; in Maryland, it actually made problems worse. In New York, about 50 schools were restaffed, but only about half showed enough progress to get off "needs improvement" lists.

Experiments in handing over schools to for-profit educational management organizations, or EMOs, showed that bringing in these companies often is no more effective than having district personnel stay in control. The same goes for charter schools and state takeovers.

A similar study conducted in 2003 by the Thomas B. Fordham Foundation found that no "intervention strategy" succeeded more than half the time, and that one of the most reliable ways to improve schools was to ensure that they have well-trained, experienced principals.

Heinrich Mintrop of the University of California-Berkeley, a co-author of the new study, says putting public pressure on schools to improve makes sense.

"I think that a certain degree of pressure is really needed," he says. "But when you actually look at the sanctions or the corrective action that we have on the books ... none of them have really proven to be universally effective. They work under certain circumstances, and they don't work under other circumstances."

He and co-author Tina Trujillo of the
University of California-Los Angeles also say many states shy away from extensive overhauls because they're politically unpopular.

Kerri Briggs, a senior policy adviser at the Department of Education, hasn't seen the research but welcomes the findings. She hopes they will help states make intelligent decisions about what to do with chronically underperforming schools. "I don't think anybody would say it's easy reform, but it's certainly necessary."

Ross Wiener, policy director for the Education Trust, a Washington advocacy group for low-income and minority students, says states retain "tremendous discretion" in choosing how they step in.

"It seems to me the most important thing is that we not lose hope on turning around persistently low-performing schools," he says. "To the extent that initial interventions are not successful, it's the responsibility of education leaders to try a new approach."
 
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Study Finds Shortcoming in New Law on Education
By GREG WINTER,
New York Times, 4/13/05
 
The academic growth that students experience in a given school year has apparently slowed since the passage of No Child Left Behind, the education law that was intended to achieve just the opposite, a new study has found.

In both reading and math, the study determined, test scores have gone up somewhat, as each class of students outdoes its predecessors. But within grades, students have made less academic progress during the school year than they did before No Child Left Behind went into effect in 2002, the researchers said.

That finding casts doubt on whether schools can meet the law's mandate that all students be academically proficient by 2014. In fact, to realize the goal of universal proficiency, the study said, students will have to make as much as three times the progress they are currently making.

The study was conducted by the Northwest Evaluation Association, which develops tests for about 1,500 school districts in 43 states. To complete it, the group drew upon its test data for more than 320,000 students in 23 states, a sample that it calls "broad but not nationally representative," in part because the biggest cities, not being Northwest clients, were not included.

One of the more ominous findings, the researchers said, is that the achievement gap between white and nonwhite students could soon widen. Closing the gap is one of the driving principles of the law, and so far states say they have made strides toward shrinking it.

But minority students with the same test scores as their white counterparts at the beginning of the school year ended up falling behind by the end of it, the study found. Both groups made academic progress, but the minority students did not make as much, it concluded, an outcome suggesting that the gaps in achievement will worsen.

"Right now it's kind of a hidden effect that we would expect to see expressed in the next couple of years," said Gage Kingsbury, Northwest's director of research. "At that point, I think people will be disappointed with what N.C.L.B. has done."

The findings diverge from those of other recent studies, including a survey last month by the Center on Education Policy, a research group. It found that a significant majority of state education officials reported widespread academic progress and a narrowing of the achievement gap.

"This new study should give everybody pause before they run off and say, 'We're marching to victory,' " said Jack Jennings, the center's president. "Maybe we're not."

Kerri Briggs, a senior policy analyst at the Education Department, said the Northwest study had both encouraging and worrisome aspects, but added that she would have to examine it more closely before passing judgment.

Some critics speculated that because the study lacked data from big cities, which have large populations of minority students and have posted significant gains on test scores in recent years, it might have overstated or mischaracterized what was happening with the achievement gap.

"It's hard to know how much you can extrapolate from this study," said Ross Wiener, policy director for the Education Trust, which released its own report in January showing mixed results on student performance and achievement gaps. "I don't think you want to make generalizations about what's going on nationwide."

Still, the Northwest study tracked student performance at a level that others did not, a factor that may help explain why some of its findings appear unorthodox. Rather than relying on test scores at just one point in the year, the Northwest study looked at how students fared in the fall and then again in the spring, in an effort to see how much they had learned during the year.

With this approach, Northwest found that test scores on its exams did, in fact, go up from one year to the next under No Child Left Behind, typically by less than a point. The reason successive classes appear to do a little better than those before them may stem from the fact that younger students have grown up during a time of more regular testing than their immediate predecessors, the researchers said, and are therefore higher achievers.

But rising test scores tend to mask how much progress individual students make as they travel through school, the researchers found. Since No Child Left Behind, that individual growth has slowed, possibly because teachers feel compelled to spend the bulk of their time making sure students who are near proficiency make it over the hurdle.

The practice may leave teachers with less time to focus on students who are either far below or far above the proficiency mark, the researchers said, making it less likely for the whole class to move forward as rapidly as before No Child Left Behind set the agenda.
 
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Mandates and mutinies
Opinion,
Baltimore Sun, 4/12/05

Many governors have complained bitterly that the Bush administration's No Child Left Behind law's mostly laudable, but often onerous, mandates have been consistently underfunded, and they've been consistently miffed at having to make up the difference. After months of verbal protests,
Connecticut has declared open warfare. The state attorney general announced last week that the state will file suit, challenging the law as an unfunded mandate - and he's looking for other states to join the fray.

Meantime, in a carefully orchestrated announcement, Education Secretary Margaret Spellings also said last week that states making progress on other fronts will be allowed to set more realistic expectations for special education students. While increased flexibility is welcome, the Department of Education is still a long way from satisfying the concerns of the states.

The department is right not to let states off the hook for making sure that low-performing schools be held to higher standards or that achievement gaps among different groups of students, particularly between whites and minorities, be significantly reduced, if not eliminated. A recent annual survey by the Center on Education Policy of how the law is being carried out found that student test scores are going up in many states, but experts caution that it's way too early to say that students are actually learning more. And the survey also showed that many school districts are engaged in temporary triage - beefing up instruction in reading and math, the first subjects tested under NCLB, while momentarily decreasing time spent on subjects that will be tested later, such as science.

There's no question that one of the biggest worries among the states is whether they'll have enough financial and human resources to fulfill NCLB's essential goal to have every child performing at grade level by 2014.
Connecticut estimates that in the next three years, it will have to spend $41 million more than Washington has appropriated to administer annual tests, from grades 3 to 8, that measure student achievement and to fulfill other requirements under the law. The state insists that it can just as well determine how well, or poorly, students are doing through tests that it already gives in grades 4, 6, 8 and 10.

Similarly,
Utah seems prepared to forgo federal funds by pushing a law that would give state educational goals preference over federal goals. Whatever happens with these threatened state actions, the department's efforts to be more flexible, however welcome, may not be enough. More meaningful dialogue and commitment to work with the states are clearly needed to deal with threatened mutiny.
 
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Utah officials appear to dig in on No Child rules
By Mike Cronin, The Salt
Lake Tribune, 4/12/05

Utah educators Monday continued to refuse to budge from their position that federal officials' concessions in No Child Left Behind legislation fall far short of what state lawmakers are demanding.

"It is time to let the federal government know that we, not they, are in charge of public education in Utah," Rep. Margaret Dayton, R-Orem, said in a prepared statement Monday, adding that Utahns must "regain control of our own public schools."

Dayton issued the statement jointly with Utah Superintendent of Education Patti Harrington, who nonetheless praised U.S. Secretary of Education Margaret Spellings' flexibility in allowing Utah to pursue its own plan for student accountability under President Bush's NCLB law. Their problem: It just didn't go far enough.

But Tim Bridgewater, Gov. Jon Huntsman Jr.'s education deputy, said, "Representative Dayton's attacks are untimely and miss the point. Most of the people who heard the announcements last week feel a major breakthrough occurred."

The
Utah standards will go before legislators during a special session April 19-20. Most people expect   that lawmakers will pass a version of what was House Bill 135 during the legislative session earlier this year.

The new bill would put state educational priorities ahead of the federal requirements. It says the state will comply with NCLB - as long as it doesn't conflict with state education priorities or require state dollars.

"I applaud [Spellings'] willingness to discuss flexibility; however, the federal government is still in
Utah's classrooms," Dayton said in her Monday statement. She called the secretary's willingness to compromise as "only an 'incremental step' in the broader flexibility that Utah is seeking."

Secretary Spellings is scheduled to visit
Utah officials on Friday for further discussions, said Susan Aspey, her spokeswoman. Last week, Republican Utah Sen. Orrin Hatch invited Spellings to the state to improve the chances that both sides can find a resolution.

"It's very important that the federal government listen to the concerns of
Utah educators," he said in an e-mail sent Monday through his Washington spokesman. "We've just got to do what we can to work out   what's best for Utah schoolchildren."

Harrington also praised Huntsman's support for
Utah's tough stance. "His willingness to host a special session in this regard is admirable."

Bridgewater underlined Huntsman's optimism in the process. "We are confident that Utah will retain control over its education system. Utah is developing an accountability system that will include all students and minorities, and close the achievement gap - but on our own terms. We have found the [U.S.] Department of Education in agreement with many of our requests. We have achieved   well over half of our goals."
  
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Teachers vs. parents: Has it gone too far?
Liz Austin, The Associated Press
 
DALLAS — The shooting last week of a Texas high school football coach — allegedly by a player's father — was just the latest and most extreme example of the threats and assaults that teachers around the country say they are increasingly being subjected to by parents.

"I know teachers really feel they're in a pressure cooker," said Aimee Bolender, president of Alliance/AFT, a
Dallas teachers union. "The respect for authority has definitely changed. Teachers are no longer respected in general."
 
In
Philadelphia in September, a mother slapped a teacher three times in the face after he told her she needed to get a late slip for her daughter, state officials say. In Dallas, a teacher got into a hair-pulling fight with a mother April 1 after scolding the woman's daughter for loitering outside a locker. The mother is herself a teacher at a Dallas high school.
 
Educators attribute the assaults and arguments, in part, to a general decline in civility and the intense competition these days to get into the right colleges.
 
Lisa Jacobson, chief executive of the tutoring and test preparation business Inspirica, said teachers have told her they are overwhelmed by pushy parents.
 
"They feel like the parents come in as CEOs and order them around," Jacobson said. "I've seen many cases of parents going into schools and coercing teachers to change grades."
 
Also, parents are more stressed-out than they used to be — working one or more jobs, or running single-parent households — and may be more likely to lash out at their children's teachers, said Doug Fiore, a Virginia elementary school principal who co-wrote a book for teachers called "Dealing With Difficult Parents."
 
Last Thursday,
Canton High School coach Gary Joe Kinne was shot and wounded in the school's field house. Jeffrey Doyle Robertson, 45, was charged with aggravated assault. Robertson, whose son played on Kinne's team, was known for his hot temper and run-ins with the coaching staff. Other parents said he was angry over the football program and the way his son was treated by teammates.
 
While no national education organization keeps statistics on assaults and threats against teachers by parents, many educators say they have seen an unmistakable rise in tensions.
 
Lee Alvoid, a retired principal in suburban
Dallas, said that toward the end of her 32-year career, parent-teacher conferences had become so tense that she sometimes asked security guards to stand outside her office.
 
The Issaquah school district outside Seattle adopted a "civility policy" in 2001 to teach everyone — parents, students, teachers and administrators — how to communicate courteously because conversations were becoming more confrontational.
 
"You listen to the talk show hosts on the radio, you watch the confrontational programs on TV. We're all more sharp and pointed and critical and demanding of each other," district spokeswoman Mary Waggoner said.
 
The Philadelphia school system is working to teach parents how to represent their children's interests more effectively and is giving teachers training in conflict resolution, said Claudia Averette, the district's chief of staff.
 
In light of the shooting in
East Texas, the Texas High School Coaches Association may adopt a conflict resolution program, said D. W. Rutledge, executive vice president.
 
"If it's in society, it's going to be in our schools," Rutledge said. "We see a lot more things that are shocking as far as how people are approaching things."
 
Six
Edwardsville High School students recently took first place for the skit they performed during German Day at Washington University.
 
The students won first out of approximately 10 skits. For the skit the students re-told a story they had read in class, "Das Nibelungenlied." The story involves a dragon-slayer hero, a treacherous king and his even more treacherous vasall, and a princess who wanted revenge and died for it.
 
German teacher Gisela Sommer said, although the material is dark, the students re-told the story in a very humorous way, which had the judges and onlookers laughing.
 
The students who participated in the skit were juniors Ryan Ash, Andrew Hansen, Kara Chapman, Dustin Lovett, Aaron Reed, and senior Mark Mallon.
 
Skits were judged on the basis of a combination of best costumes, best acting and best use of the German language.
 
The 29th German Day was presented by the German Department of
Washington University on March 17. Students from Missouri and Illinois were invited to participate in a variety of activities. Every student was required to take part in one of the contests which included declamation contests (poetry recitation - from memory), spelling bees, poster contests or skits.

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State lawsuit looms against 'No Child Left Behind' act
Susan Hunter,
Derby Valley Gazette Editor, 4/13/05 
 
Local educators have reacted positively to news that the state of
Connecticut may sue the U.S Department of Education for imposing expensive, unfunded mandates as part of the No Child Left Behind Act. 

Attorney General Richard Blumenthal's April 5 announcement that he was preparing legal action against the federal government met with criticism from the U.S. Education Department.
  
The government says the act aims to "close the achievement gap among groups of students." However, word of a revision to the NCLB law followed two days later.

Despite a change that would increase the number of special education students eligible to receive individualized testing from 1 to 2 percent of the population, Blumenthal wrote in an April 7 response to the policy announcement, "Our determination to sue continues. Nothing in all of today's verbiage corrects the key legal lapse. By the law's clear terms, no mandate means no mandate, if it's unfunded. And unfortunately, the real losers are our children.

"Continuing unfunded man­dates requires us to randomly replace successful programs without new, necessary resources - illegally imposing hundreds of millions of dollars in costs to states and municipalities."

Connecticut would be the first state to file such a legal challenge to the act, according to Blumenthal's office.

"The state of
Connecticut currently administers standardized tests in alternate years - in grades four, six, eight and 10," Blumenthal said. "Under NCLB, the state will be forced to test students annually - expanding testing to grades three, five and seven - with no evidence that annual testing provides more accurate results.

"Requiring Connecticut to spend $8 million of its own money to conduct additional testing - when it has a successful 20-year history of alternate-grade testing - violates the Unfunded Mandates Provision of the NCLB, 20 USC Sec. 7907(a), as well as the Spending Clause under the U.S. Constitution," he said.

The NCLB legislation has mandated that only 1 percent of school children, namely those with severe developmental delays or learning handicaps, may be exempt from regular standardized testing. It was a dictate that worried educators and parents alike, who saw children designated as special education students forced to take tests geared for students at regular educational levels. Not only did the students do poorly on the tests; their self-esteem suffered as well.

Among the many ironies involved in the NCLB is that "federal law requires we provide individualized programs and on the other hand refuses to recognize this in terms of testing," said
Ansonia's Assistant School Supt. Anne Giddings.

Previously, all special education children could take tests at differentiated levels of ability.

"NCLB put the kybosh on that," Giddings said, and requests by
Connecticut's Commissioner of Education Betty J. Sternberg to return to differentiated testing levels were turned down at the federal level.

The revision announced this past week to increase the exemption to 2 percent of students marks "a realization that the regulations have not allowed for the individualization of students," Giddings said.

Derby School Supt. Janet Robinson does not see the change in as positive a light and believes the 2 percent threshold does not cover all children who need individualized testing.

Robinson supports Blumenthal's efforts to sue the federal Education Department.

"I think it's bold to move forward," Robinson said. "
Connecticut has been top state in the country in terms of education."

By testing students more often, tests will probably need to be simplified.
Connecticut's tests do not call for simple recall responses, she said, but include problem-solving skills.

"It is moving us backwards," she said. "
Connecticut ranks top in the nation in reading scores. We have the most rigorous testing requirements. Now, with NCLB, we are required to test every year, and that is costly. Derby is not receiving a reimbursement that equals our outlay."

She said it was ironic that the state of
Connecticut, which is initiating the lawsuit, "doesn't give us full funding."

In terms of overall funding for NCLB, the federal government has provided "a very small part of what is needed," Giddings said. "It is certainly true that NCLB has created additional work and funding responsibility for the state Department of Education and local districts."

The state has to prepare more detailed reports on the Connecticut Academic Performance Test and Connecticut Mastery Tests, she said.

Connecticut school districts have also had to pay to retrain teachers to meet the requirements of special education imposed by federal mandates. Federal and state legislation and interpretation of such law have paved the way for the policy of inclusion or teaching special education children in regular classrooms and for the need for differentiated instruction or teaching children of all abilities and disabilities in the same classroom.

The $14 million that U.S Secretary of Education Margaret Spellings has directed toward the identification and assessment of special education students is money that may have to be moved from other education programs, said Giddings. She sees
Connecticut's potential lawsuit as the only recourse left to fight the federal mandate.

"Now we can and must be prepared to take this fight to court," Blumenthal said. "We'll be ready for that fight, reaching out to other states, as well as
Connecticut towns and cities and education advocates." 
 
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Education department rejects
Va.'s first NCLB waiver request
AP,
4/14/05 
 
RICHMOND, Va. The federal Department of Education has rejected Virginia's first request for a waiver from part of the No Child Left Behind law.

State education officials had requested that the law be relaxed for kindergarten and first-grade English learners.
Virginia had wanted to drop testing their reading and writing skills. Native English speakers aren't tested in reading until third grade.

The rejection came less than a week after U-S Education Secretary Margaret Spellings promised more flexibility for states that are committed to the education-reform law. Several states have said the federal government doesn't back up the law with proper funding. And many school leaders say the testing requirements for disabled children and limited-English learners are unfair and unworkable.

Virginia has ten more waiver requests pending.

No Child Left Behind aims to have all students, regardless of race, poverty or disability, be proficient in reading and math by 2014.

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Audit:
Calif. school misspent millions
By Jennifer Coleman, Associated Press Writer,
4/14/05  

SACRAMENTO, Calif. -- Operators of California's biggest charter school system pocketed much of the $139 million the state gave them, spending a fortune on fat salaries for family members, side businesses and overpriced textbooks, according to a state audit issued Thursday.
 
The audit paints a damning picture of the
California Charter Academy -- four charter schools that enrolled thousands of students from 1999 until August, when it closed amid the yearlong investigation.

"The magnitude of waste of precious education funds outlined in this audit is appalling," said state Superintendent of Public Instruction Jack O'Connell, who ordered the investigation.

State officials said they will submit the case to prosecutors for possible criminal charges, and will file an involuntary bankruptcy petition to try to retrieve school funds.

C. Steven Cox, chief executive of the management company that runs the schools, Education Administrative Services Corp., did not immediately return a call to the EASC office in Arizona, where he runs a charter school in Apache Junction.

California gave the academy $139.4 million to educate students who attended classes at about 60 campuses across the state. When they closed in August, 4,500 students had to find someplace else to go to school.

Auditors found that Cox spent $1.2 million on salaries and perks for his wife, son, daughter-in-law and sister-in-law. The spending included high-priced sport utility vehicles and expense accounts, auditors said.

The schools paid about 13 percent of their state funds to EASC for management services -- considerably higher than the 2 percent to 7 percent similar companies charge, according to the audit.

Cox also invested school money in side businesses, the auditors said. Among the businesses Cox created was a school supply company that sold $920,000 worth of books and other items to the schools at a markup of as much as 57 percent, the auditors said.

The audit said the misspending drained money away from the classroom. Teacher salaries were far less than at other schools, and teachers and parents complained they had trouble getting books and other supplies.

Cox "had the opportunity to direct millions of dollars of (academy) funds to benefit himself, his corporation, his family, and his friends and associates," the audit said. "He took advantage of that opportunity."

Charter schools are public schools that are freed from many regulations in the hope the increased flexibility will help students learn more. But the experiment has been marked by misspending in some cases. One school operator was sentenced to eight months in jail in January for misappropriating funds and conflict of interest.

A state law that took effect last year gives the school districts that authorize charter schools more control, but critics say even more oversight is needed.
 
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Aggressive parents a growing problem for teachers
AP,
4/14/05
 
DALLAS, Texas -- The shooting last week of a Texas high school football coach -- allegedly by a player's father -- was just the latest and most extreme example of the threats and assaults that teachers around the country say they are increasingly being subjected to by parents.

"I know teachers really feel they're in a pressure cooker," said Aimee Bolender, president of Alliance/AFT, a
Dallas teachers union. "The respect for authority has definitely changed. Teachers are no longer respected in general."

In
Philadelphia in September, a mother slapped a teacher three times in the face after he told her she needed to get a late slip for her daughter, state officials say. In Dallas, police say, a mother stormed into a classroom, grabbed a teacher's hair, and punched her and kicked her April 1 after the teacher scolded the woman's daughter for loitering outside a locker. The mother is herself a teacher in Dallas.

Educators attribute the assaults and arguments, in part, to a general decline in civility and the intense competition these days to get into the right colleges.

Lisa Jacobson, chief executive of the tutoring and test preparation business Inspirica, said teachers have told her they are overwhelmed by pushy parents.

"They feel like the parents come in as CEOs and order them around," Jacobson said. "I've seen many cases of parents going into schools and coercing teachers to change grades."

Also, parents are more stressed-out than they used to be -- working one or more jobs, or running single-parent households -- and may be more likely to lash out at their children's teachers, said Doug Fiore, a Virginia elementary school principal who co-wrote a book for teachers called "Dealing With Difficult Parents."

Last Thursday,
Canton High School coach Gary Joe Kinne was shot and wounded in the school's field house. Jeffrey Doyle Robertson, 45, was charged with aggravated assault on a public servant. Robertson, whose son played on Kinne's team, was known for his hot temper and run-ins with the coaching staff. Other parents said he was angry over the football program and the way his son was treated by teammates.

While no national education organization keeps statistics on assaults and threats against teachers by parents, many educators say they have seen an unmistakable rise in tensions.

Lee Alvoid, a retired principal in suburban
Dallas, said that toward the end of her 32-year career, parent-teacher conferences had become so tense that she sometimes asked security guards to stand outside her office.

The Issaquah school district outside
Seattle adopted a "civility policy" in 2001 to teach everyone -- parents, students, teachers and administrators -- how to communicate courteously because conversations were becoming more confrontational.

"You listen to the talk show hosts on the radio, you watch the confrontational programs on TV. We're all more sharp and pointed and critical and demanding of each other," district spokeswoman Mary Waggoner said.

The Philadelphia school system is working to teach parents how to represent their children's interests more effectively and is giving teachers training in conflict resolution, said Claudia Averette, the district's chief of staff.

In light of the shooting in
East Texas, the Texas High School Coaches Association may adopt a conflict resolution program, said D. W. Rutledge, executive vice president.

"If it's in society, it's going to be in our schools," Rutledge said. "We see a lot more things that are shocking as far as how people are approaching things."
 
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SAT scores: 2400 is the new 1600
107 receive perfect scores in first sitting for new test
AP, 4/13/05

Austin Weiss is a pioneer in perfection, a charter member of an elite new club: students who scored a flawless 2400 on the new SAT.

When the college entrance exam expanded from two sections to three this year, the mark required for perfection rose from 1600 to 2400. This week, as the 300,000 students who took the first sitting of the new test March 12 began receiving scores, the College Board reported that 107 scored a perfect 800 on each of the three sections -- writing, critical reading and math.

Weiss, a 16-year-old junior at
Palm Desert High School in California, learned he was one of those students after stumbling out of bed Monday morning. His mother had already retrieved his score online and posted it on the bathroom mirror.

"I put in my left contact lens and blinked a couple times and saw a little Post-it note, and it said just one thing: 2400," Weiss said Tuesday.

"I just leaned my head out and screamed at the top of my lungs and said, 'Are you serious?"' She was.

The College Board, which owns the SAT, confirmed the number of perfect scores but has not yet publicly released detailed information about how all the test-takers did. Educators are curious whether student performance on the new test will, as the College Board has pledged, be comparable to the old.

David Benjamin Gruenbaum, owner of test-prep company Ahead of the Class in
Santa Rosa and Irvine, California -- where two students at University High School scored 2400 -- said his students have been reporting surprisingly high scores on the new writing section, which derives one-third of its score from a written essay and two-thirds from multiple-choice grammar questions. He said one of his students who got 800 on the writing section considered math his best subject and speaks Chinese at home.

"What I've seen just from my students is some of the kids who are better in math are actually doing better in the writing," he said. "I think the writing section is too coachable."

College Board spokeswoman Caren Scoropanos said "there is no factual information to endorse that claim." The overall distribution of scores for this year's high school juniors will not be released until August 2006, but she said "there is a broad distribution of scores on all three sections."

Of the 1.4 million 2004 high school graduates who took the old SAT, 939 scored a then-perfect 1600, according to Brian O'Reilly, the College Board's executive director of SAT information services.

The percentage of test-takers who hit triple-perfection on the new test in March is about half that, though O'Reilly said comparisons are difficult because the group that took the new test on its first offering may not be typical.

Weiss prepared by taking a full-length practice test the weekend before the test but did not take any kind of prep class -- a regimen in keeping with the College Board's recommendations. He had come within 40 points of a perfect score on the PSAT so his SAT mark wasn't a huge surprise.

"When I came out of the test, I felt pretty confident, but I didn't think I'd get a perfect score," said Weiss, who says he isn't sure of his career or college plans, but in the coming months he will be looking carefully at a number of schools including Stanford, Berkeley, UCLA and Penn.

He won't be taking the test again.
 
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