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State of Illinois - Governor Blagojevich 

News Clips

News Clips – April 22 - 29, 2005


Teachers defend end-of-career raises / St. Louis Post-Dispatch
'Diversity Dinner' helps students confront stereotypes / Chicago Sun-Times
Antioch parents focus on changing state law / Daily Herald
Lawmaker vows to fight for funding / Rockford Register Star
School nurses ready for a tragedy / Quincy Herald-Whig
Is it school versus work day? /
Chicago Tribune
State rejects deal with E. St. Louis schools / St. Louis Post-Dispatch
District to test for booze at prom / Daily Herald
Seeking high scores, schools turn to bribes / Daily Southtown
Peoria scores IHSA repeat / Peoria Journal Star
Waive the waiver requirement / Belleville News-Democrat
Public schools' exclusion of religion does students great disservice / Chicago Tribune
'Skill gap' between races stagnant / Chicago Sun-Times
St. Charles schools add breath meters to anti-drinking tool kit / Chicago Tribune
U-46, Dist. 300 parents get lesson in school funding / Daily Herald
Home-school mom charged with allowing truancy / Southern Illinoisan
Education isn't only answers; it's knowing the questions / Rockford Register Star
An investment in our future / State Journal-Register

School bus study warns of fumes / Chicago Tribune
Cell towers meet schools' income need / Dallas Morning News
Amid Affluence, a Struggle Over Special Education / New York Times
Students rewarded for tattling at school / Boston Globe
Trying Times for Special Ed /
Washington Post
Kansas plans to take up evolution and creationism all over again / Daily Southtown
Year-rounds may spread with growth / Raleigh News & Observer (NC)
Broward students may get away with 'offensive' attire, School Board says / Sun-Sentinel (FL)
Texas school board adds Bible class / Boston Globe
'Soccer Mom' Education Chief Plays Hardball / New York Times
Big education changes coming /
Arizona Republic
White supremacist running for Montana school board /



Teachers defend end-of-career raises
By Alexa Aguilar and Kevin McDermott,
St. Louis Post-Dispatch, 4/23/05

In his February budget speech, Gov. Rod Blagojevich asserted that
Illinois school districts are essentially fleecing the state's pension system - giving big, brief raises to outgoing teachers so the state is forced to pay them inflated retirement benefits for the rest of their lives.

In fact, school districts in the Metro East and throughout the state routinely grant big end-of-career pay boosts to teachers - raises that are then figured into their state pension payments, according to Post-Dispatch analysis.

But educators defend the practice as partial compensation for the chronic underfunding of education by the state. They openly promote the practice as a way of rewarding teachers. Some districts even write the strategy into union contracts.

And, they warn, if Blagojevich is successful in closing that loophole, the teachers will suffer.

"These teachers should not have to pay the bill for the state's mismanagement," said Brent Clark, superintendent of the
Belleville High School District.

Clark was referring to the fact that state lawmakers have been neglecting to fund the pension systems over the years.

Teachers in
Clark's district get end-of-career raises of up to $25,000, which can boost their state pensions significantly.

Clark and many other educators say there's little chance their districts will be able to replace what their teachers will lose if Blagojevich succeeds with his pension changes.

"That money has to come from somewhere,"
Clark said.

Blagojevich, struggling with huge projected deficits in the state's pension systems, has proposed a 3 percent limit on end-of-career pay hikes for the purposes of the pension formula, down from the current limit of 20 percent.

The governor said in his Feb. 16 speech to a joint session of the General Assembly in

"... Taxpayers across
Illinois shouldn't have to pay billions of dollars more in increased pension costs just to cover those end-of-career raises."

Exploiting a loophole?

The Post-Dispatch examined teacher contracts from the majority of public school districts in St. Clair, Madison and Monroe counties, and found that most had a "retirement incentive" of 10 percent to 20 percent built into their teacher contracts.

For some, it's a flat payout - say $7,500 - to any teacher who retires after a certain number of years. Others use formulas that take into account a teacher's years of service and what the teacher earns.

Some districts allow teachers to cash out unused sick days accumulated over their long careers, a benefit that can total thousands of dollars. That increase, up to 20 percent of salary in each of the four highest years, is then included in the teacher's pension formula.

Local districts where these "incentives" or "rewards" can drive teachers' pensions upward include:

New Athens and
Columbia, where contracts guarantee a flat 20 percent end-of-career raise. A teacher earning $50,000 can count on a final salary of $60,000.

The O'Fallon High School district, where teachers receive 1 percent of their final salary multiplied by their years of service. A teacher earning $65,000 in his or her final year after 34 years in the district could walk away with a $22,000 raise.

Collinsville, where teachers are rewarded for years of good attendance. For example, if a teacher had nearly perfect attendance for 34 years, the teacher could earn an extra $15,000 to $16,000 in his or her final year.

East Alton-Wood River, which gives teachers a raise of $10,000 in their final year. In addition to boosting pensions, Superintendent John Pearson said, the money is an incentive for teachers not to take early retirement, because that ends up costing the district more.

"Districts feel boxed into a corner on this," Pearson said. "It's not school boards running rampant and throwing money around."

The governor's administration - which is negotiating with legislative leaders on this and other budget goals - believes it can save $17 billion in the Teachers' Retirement System over the next 40 years with the 3 percent cap. It maintains that the school districts are exploiting a loophole in the system to give teachers retirement benefits beyond what they normally would be entitled to.

The fact that the state is footing the pension bill, the administration points out, makes it an easy choice for the districts but hurts the state's already overburdened pension system.

John Filan, Blagojevich's budget director, said in an interview last week that it's a common pattern around the state: Teachers get annual raises of 2 or 3 percent, until "that famous last year comes ... and all the sudden it skyrockets."

"This was a loophole they found," Filan said. "What we've heard the governor say is, in the course of getting through
Illinois' worst fiscal crisis, we've asked sacrifices from everybody."

"This is my perk"

Blagojevich was careful in his speech to pay homage to teachers. He suggested that school districts would respond to his plan by compensating teachers better while they were still on the districts' payrolls.

"I believe teachers are underpaid and underappreciated," he said in the speech. "But rather than back-loading salaries as they're about to leave the profession, wouldn't it be better to pay them more money throughout their careers?"

Educators are virtually unanimous in their view that that's simply not a realistic expectation for districts that are often struggling with expenses.

"No way could a district afford that," said Jim Rosborg, superintendent of Belleville Elementary schools. Teachers there currently get automatic $12,600 raises in their final year.

Under existing union contracts, some districts could be stuck paying those end-of-career raises and subsidizing the resulting higher pensions - at least for the term of the current contracts - if the state imposes the 3 percent cap. In other districts, the teachers would simply lose that perk.

For example, New Athens' teachers' contract allows a final-year raise of 20 percent - the maximum the state will allow for use in the pension formula. But it also has a clause protecting the district from having to pay any future penalty for doling out the raise. If the state requires New Athens to pay the retirement system for end-of-career salary boosts, the district and teachers union will head back to the bargaining table to renegotiate that part of the contract.

A spokesman for the Illinois Education Association, which represents teachers statewide, predicted that similar scenarios will be repeated across
Illinois if Blagojevich's plan becomes law.

"We look at benefits such as these as essentially deferred compensation," said IEA spokesman Charles McBarron.

He noted that Illinois has never lived up to its constitutional obligation to be the "primary" source of funding for the public schools, and said it only makes sense that struggling school districts would do what they can to at least ensure that their teachers get the best pension possible.

Norbert Kassing, 55, retires next month after 34 years in the New Athens school district. His starting salary in 1972 was about $8,000; now he earns $52,000. The district's 20 percent end-of-career raise will add about $10,000.

He said he's bothered by any perception that he's milking the system. Private industry gives bonuses, he said, questioning why it's wrong for him to receive a reward for a long career.

"I'm not going to get rich on it," he said. "I've heard about those teachers and superintendents making $170,000 a year. But this is little ol' New Athens."

Diane Knaus, 55, will retire next month after 34 years in Belleville Elementary schools. She topped out on the district's salary schedule years ago, earning about $75,000 annually. She received her promised $12,600 retirement reward this year from the district. She'll spend it on her son's college fund, she said.

"I look at this way ... it's my reward for dedicating myself for all of those years," Knaus said. "Legislators get perks; I bet the governor gets certain perks. This is my perk."

Blagojevich's plan, if ultimately passed by the Legislature this year and enacted, wouldn't affect the pensions of teachers who have already retired.

'Diversity Dinner' helps students confront stereotypes
BY KATE N. GROSSMAN, Sun-Times Education Reporter, 4/25/05

Maricia Terrell had her first brush with racism about eight years ago, but talking about it now, so many years later, she still fights back tears.

Before a small group of black and white students, Maricia told her tale last week, sharing details of a day when a teacher pulled her and another black student aside and kept them out of class activities. Save race, there was no explanation, she and her mother concluded.

"My mom said, 'Don't think about it, but remember it,' " said Maricia, a soft-spoken sophomore from
Rich East High School in south suburban Park Forest. She got that chance last week when students from her racially diverse high school met kids from Frankfort's predominately white Lincoln-Way East High School to tackle the thorny issues of race and diversity.

About 700 people broke bread Thursday across the south suburbs for the eighth annual "Diversity Dinners." This year, for the first time, the diners included 30 students and 10 adults from Rich East and Lincoln-Way East, two schools on each side of an ugly racial controversy that erupted over their south suburban sports league, the South Inter-Conference Association, or SICA.

Earlier this year, some predominantly black schools in SICA charged that a plan to realign the 35 schools into new divisions was motivated by race and class.

Then, in March, a racially charged message was left on a Chicago Sun-Times voice mail from the home of a Lincoln-Way school board member. The board member denied making the call but resigned soon after the recording surfaced. The message included demeaning comments about blacks. Three schools, Rich East, Rich South and Rich Central, were singled out.

'No one has those views'

"We were all appalled," Lauren Russell, a white Lincoln-Way East senior, told five students and staff at her dinner table at Rich East on Thursday. Her far south suburban school is 91 percent white, 2 percent black and 4 percent Hispanic.

"No one has those views. We were all kind of upset, but it happened, and now we have to show people we're not like that," Lauren said.

Over rigatoni, salad and brownies, Rich East kids shared the pain caused by the call.

"The reaction was, 'We basically hate everyone from there,' and we were so upset," said Taylor Linear, a black Rich East junior. Her school is 69 percent black, 25 percent white and 4 percent Hispanic.

But as time wore on, they realized they were stereotyping the Lincoln-Way community just as the caller had generalized about their community, Taylor and other Rich East students said.

"I looked in the mirror and saw I was doing the same thing to you guys as we didn't want done to us,"
Taylor told a group gathered in a circle after dinner.

Throughout the evening, the students shared laughs over racial stereotypes -- not all white people like mayonnaise and not all black people eat fried chicken -- and shared details of their lives, their families, their interests.

They offered solace when Maricia and others told stories of discrimination and discussed stereotypes that reach beyond race. Nearly everyone, including a female softball player and the white coach of a mostly black sports team, expressed frustration with stereotypes.

They ended the evening by naming steps to improve race relations generally and, in particular, with a sense that the healing between the two schools had begun.

Antioch parents focus on changing state law
By Sheila Ahern, Daily Herald Staff Writer,

The Millers realize the
Antioch school board may never let their home-schooled daughter play high school soccer.

But they are hoping state officials will.

For more than a month, Kim and Don Miller have asked the Antioch–Lake Villa High School District 117 school board to allow their daughter, Kia Miller, a home-schooled student, to join the
Antioch High School soccer team.

Once again, the board denied the request Thursday, after a committee of
Antioch teachers and administrators recommended against changing the policy that says only students who are enrolled full-time are allowed to participate in extra-circular activities.

“The policy will stand as written,” said Phil Delany, school board president.

Now the Millers will try to get the state to force school boards to allow home-schoolers to participate.

“We’re going to try and change the state law,” Don Miller said. “It’s obvious talking to the school board is a waste of time.”

There are 14 states that allow home-schoolers to participate in after-school activities, Miller said.
Illinois is not one of them.

Thursday, board members expressed support for both sides of the issue before ultimately deciding not to change the policy.

Board member Wayne Sobczak said allowing non-enrolled students to participate would open it up to students who attended private schools as well.

“If a student at
Carmel didn’t make the football team, his parents could send him over to Antioch,” Sobczak said.

Other board members, like Dave Dziki, said only a handful of home-schoolers would participate in the district’s programs. In addition, schools that allow home-schooled students to play sports aren’t having any problems, he said.

“Evidently, it’s working for them,” Dziki said.

Before the board discussed the issue, Kim Miller read a six-page letter urging the board to change the policy.

“Among this board there seems to be a fear of home-educated kids and with fear generally comes prejudice,” Kim Miller said. “These students are not the enemy. They are not going to scar
Antioch High School.”

Kia Miller has been home-schooled since she was in fifth- grade. The flexible schedule allows her time for an equestrian apprenticeship, which takes up to 15 hours a week. Kia takes online courses with
NorthStar Academy, a private Christian online school.

Although her parents said they believe the board won’t change its mind, the Millers plan on returning to update board members on their quest to change the state law.

Lawmaker vows to fight for funding   
Jim Sacia visits Byron schools and talks about easing the education-money burden on taxpayers
Rockford Register Star, 4/26/05

BYRON -- State Rep. Jim Sacia promised students in teacher Angie McHale's high school class that he would fight in
Springfield to improve funding for their school and others.

His comments Monday were met with a few blank stares and a few smiles. The 61-year-old Sacia, R-Pecatonica, then solicited questions from students. Hearing none, he joked that the teens needed to get the "turkey" out of their classroom so they could get back to work.

He left them with this plea: "Get involved with government and make this a better world."

Byron is one of many
Illinois school districts experiencing financial difficulties. Two failed referendums in November led to $2.7 million in program and staff cuts for next year.

Sacia spoke at length about the importance of easing the burden on taxpayers, including steering the school funding formula away from the use of property taxes.

"I am literally ashamed at the state of school funding in the state of
Illinois," he said. "There are 118 representatives and 59 senators. ... If you talk to each one of us, I absolutely am totally convinced that there isn't one of them who wouldn't say one of their top three most important issues is education.

"Yet, in 19 years, the General Assembly has not dealt with these crucial issues."

Sacia said two recent bills that address school funding need fine-tuning and likely will not be considered during the current legislative session. He and Democrat Jack Franks of
Woodstock have posed the idea of dedicating a special session to education funding.

Sacia visited Byron schools Monday at the invitation of second-grade teacher Michele Hamel, who is active in the teachers union.

During a recent trip to
Springfield, Hamel received advice on contacting legislators. She called Sacia, and he agreed to visit for a few hours before heading back to Springfield.

Hamel took Sacia to Byron's elementary and middle schools in the morning. First-grade students showed him how to use PowerPoint. He also sat in on a vocabulary lesson.

"Things have changed since we were in school," said Hamel, a teacher at Byron since 1988. "We explained to him things about our buildings, our concerns about having only one school nurse for 1,800 kids. ... He took notes and seemed interested in our information. I felt good about his visit."

School nurses ready for a tragedy
By Rodney Hart, Quincy Herald-Whig Staff Writer,

School nurses and security personnel must be prepared for more than playground scrapes and tummy aches.

A recent national survey listed emergency preparedness as a priority for school nurses, but finding the resources for training and making sure schools are prepared for natural or man-made disasters isn't easy in tough budget times.

"I think we have the tools to respond, as much as anybody can be ready," said Jeannie Martin, school nurse supervisor of Quincy Public Schools. "My nurses are the best. They are a part of the team at all the schools."

Superintendent Tom Leahy says QPS has not received funding from Homeland Security or state agencies for disaster training. School officials do not have a firm figure on how much has been spent on training.

"I think our nursing staff and our security department is well prepared," Leahy said. "We are a

community resource and we are willing to help, whether it's with facilities or staffing or whatever."

Terrorists aren't likely to target
Quincy, but greater risks are natural disasters like tornadoes and weather-related emergencies. School shootings have been in the news lately after an incident in Red Lake, Minn., and authorities don't discount the risk of a hazardous waste spill or bomb threats.

Being ready is the key, said QPS chief of security Billy Meyer.

"The chance of
Quincy being hit by a terrorist attack is remote," Meyer said. "But you have your loners, your homicidal maniacs. When you hear about things like Red Lake and the Columbine shootings ... you just can't assume anything anymore."

Quincy Public Schools had a crisis management plan put into place after the terrorist attacks on
Sept. 11, 2001. Months of planning and working with various levels of administration resulted in the plan, much of which is confidential.

Quincy Public Schools has 19 buildings, 13 of them school buildings. There are 14 full-time nurses' positions.

"We are all on the same page, but each plan is unique for each building," Meyer said. "One of our first concerns is getting notification and getting assistance, contacting law enforcement and administration."

Knowing where to go for support is a key element of fighting potential threats and natural disasters. Mechanisms are in place, Meyer said, to contact state and federal authorities quickly if
Quincy is in need.

Meyer said principals at each
Quincy school also get training, then pass on what they learn to school staff.

School nurses have also received training in disaster preparedness. In June,
Quincy school nurses will be able to attend day-long workshops in Edwardsville and suburban Chicago developed by the National Association of School Nurses.

Roles of school nurses, response procedures, triage, reactions to stress and identification and response to threats are among the many things to be discussed at the conferences.

"We have a nurse in every building and they are trained to react to these situations," Martin said.

Meyer said
Quincy schools must be community stewards during times of emergency. Buildings like Quincy Junior High School at 14th and Maine, Baldwin Intermediate at 30th and Maine and Quincy High School at 33rd and Maine could be utilized to house people or store supplies and equipment.

"I do know if there was a county or city disaster, the school district will do its part to help," Meyer said.

School nurses and other school staff are trained in much more than disaster reaction. Being prepared means stopping problems before they start, Martin and Meyer said.

If a student is struggling or having a bad day, it's not unusual for a custodian to notice and come over with a kind word, or a teacher to alert security if they suspect something is brewing.

"Once you see a person with a gun walking toward the school, it's already too late," Meyer said. "Our entire staff does a fantastic job of making sure problems don't get out of hand to start with."

Is it school versus work day?
Chicago Tribune Editorial, 4/26/05

This Thursday is Take Our Daughters and Sons to Work Day. Some educators, though, grumble that the annual event has turned into something else: national play hooky day.

They have a point.

The idea of a special day to bring daughters to the workplace was hatched by the Ms. Foundation for Women in response to discouraging research about the low career expectations and low self-esteem of many girls. It started in 1993 and was such a success that, eventually, boys were added to the mix. The fourth Thursday of April was picked for the annual event, in part so the educational experience could be discussed and shared the next day in school.

Some 16 million children are expected to participate this year.

It's a hot ticket in some places, including the Tribune. Kids in the newsroom this year will help Amy Dickinson give advice, debate with the editors which comic strips should stay and which should go, argue with the editorial board, anchor their own newscasts, write a restaurant review with Phil Vettel, report the news, take photos and do plenty of other activities. A half-dozen creative volunteers here make this a memorable and educational experience for kids.

We're big fans of Take Our Daughters and Sons to Work Day.

But really, wouldn't it make more sense to hold it in June?

Some teachers say the idea's success has created a problem. The kids miss a day of school, and with so many absentees, precious little educating takes place for the kids who do come to school that day. In some school districts, the fourth Thursday of April also coincides with an important state standardized exam day.

Some workplaces don't structure the event, and it winds up looking like Chuck E. Cheese's on a Saturday afternoon. Some places plunk the kids in front of a Disney movie or expect them to draw pictures ... the entire day.

Kids still get something simply out of being in an adult workplace and watching their parents and other grownups work. But kids are kids. Probably some of them do see this as a chance to play hooky from school.

If Take Our Daughters and Sons to Work Day were scheduled in mid-June, after school lets out and before the summer camp/summer vacation season starts, kids could get all the benefits of the workplace experience--and not miss a day in the classroom.

State rejects deal with
E. St. Louis schools
By Alexa Aguilar,
St. Louis Post-Dispatch, 4/26/05

The East St. Louis School Board can't hire interim CEO Stan Mims as its permanent superintendent because the district promised last year it would find someone else for the job, the State Board of Education ruled Tuesday.

Now, the district has about 60 days to find a leader for its district of almost 10,000 students - months after most other districts' searches have been completed.

Last year, the State Board and
East St. Louis struck a deal - the state would disband the oversight panel that kept tabs on the district's finances a few months before the panel's expiration if the School Board would allow the state to choose an interim school chief to run the schools this school year.

The state's pick was Stan Mims, former head of schools in
Brooklyn, N.Y., and a financially troubled district in northern Illinois.

But the district made no movement to find his replacement. So, earlier this month, the State Board offered to extend the deal - another year of Mims, state oversight and the chance for more time to find a superintendent.

But the School Board rejected the offer, calling it "tantamount to another financial oversight panel."

Now, the State Board decided, the School Board has to follow the rules of the original deal, and that means no more Mims after June.

District officials could not be reached for comment Tuesday.

The School Board hired a nationally recognized search firm this month, while also petitioning the State Board to let Mims stay. The district wants Mims because he's "sparked a revitalization effort," according to a district statement.

Becky Watts, spokeswoman for the State Board, said last year's agreement between the State Board and the School Board is clear:
East St. Louis needs a permanent person in place by June 30, and that person can't be Mims.

The motivation for the one-year contract was to hire someone who could be a "change agent," someone who could make big changes without worrying about whether the School Board would like him enough to keep him, she said.

District to test for booze at prom
By Lisa Smith, Daily Herald Staff Writer,

Thinking about drinking in the limo on the way to prom?

Think again, administrators in the
St. Charles school district are warning students. The district recently purchased handheld electronic alcohol sensors that can detect liquor on a student’s breath with the touch of a button.

Staff members will pull aside any student during the school day or at school-related events, including prom, if that student’s behavior and appearance indicates he or she might have been drinking, officials said Monday.

“It’s basically another tool in our toolbox to make sure our school environment is safe,” student assistance coordinator Stacy Anderson said.

An electrochemical fuel cell sensor inside the 6-ounce Alco-Sensor FST detects the breath alcohol level of the person being tested and within five to 10 seconds displays the results as a three-digit percentage on its liquid crystal display screen.

The battery-powered instrument also can determine the presence of alcohol in containers. It does not respond to other substances.

The school district purchased two devices — one for each high school — with a $1,050 grant from the St. Charles Youth Commission.

Forty-two percent of high school sophomores have been drunk at least once and 20 percent of freshmen reported binge drinking, according to recent studies published by the National Institute on Drug Abuse and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

“Our children are literally being stolen by drugs, alcohol and violence,” Superintendent Barbara Erwin said.

St. Charles school staff will use the Alco-Sensors only when they have reason to believe a student is intoxicated, officials said.

“It’s strictly a preventive tool,”
Anderson said.

But other districts across the country are using the devices to regularly or randomly test students. Students at
Westwood High School in suburban Boston will have to take a breath-alcohol test to be admitted to the school prom.

Seeking high scores, schools turn to bribes
How to get teens to care about high-stakes achievement tests? Try plying them with perks 
By Kati Phillips, Daily Southtown Staff writer, 4/27/05

When high school juniors put No. 2 pencils to test booklets, they won't just be competing for the highest score.

They will also be vying for free class rings, prom tickets and parking spaces — all incentives that south suburban schools are offering for good performance on the Prairie State Achievement Exam.

Juniors statewide will sit for the PSAE today and tomorrow as a requirement for graduation.

The first day is the ACT, the most popular college entrance exam for
Illinois students.

Day 2 consists of state-developed science, reading and math exams that will be used to judge schools under the federal No Child Left Behind Act.

Most college-bound students know their ACT scores. But ask them their PSAE scores, and chances are you will get a blank stare.

"There is a good reason they don't know it," said Reavis High School District 220 Supt. Larry Daker. "It doesn't mean anything to them."

Educators have gone out of their way to make the standardized test relevant, visiting classes and holding small group luncheons in past weeks to explain the importance of performance.

They have explained that low PSAE scores translate to state and federal sanctions, image problems and reductions in the value of their homes — which means students will inherit less when their parents die.

Students have been reminded that performance will be honored at an assembly or on plaques for all the community to see.

But in cases where those carrots and sticks fall short, school officials are dealing in teenage currency.

High scores at
Reavis High School in Burbank yield a class picnic when juniors return in the fall.

Bremen High School District 228 students who meet and exceed in all PSAE categories get "scholar" hooded sweatshirts.

Class rings are awarded to the two highest scorers at each school in Thornton Township High School District 205, and Thornwood holds a bonus raffle for tuxedo rental (just in time for prom) and school supplies.

Students who ace the test at
Andrew High School in Tinley Park get a chance to win their choice of prom or homecoming tickets, while peers at Stagg High School in Palos Hills vie for parking passes worth $100.

Community High School District 218 offers a perk that's the envy of students everywhere.

Those teens who meet or exceed state standards in every PSAE category are exempt from senior-year finals, said Shepard High School Principal Ty Harting.

The exemption does not stem from pure good will.

"We have been desperately looking at things to motivate kids to do well on the exam," he said.

The state board of education convened a student advisory council in 2000 to recommend ways to get teenagers to take the PSAE seriously. Their ideas ranged from scholarships to breaks on automobile insurance, but none of them was implemented.

Instead, the state incorporated the ACT into the exam hoping that would make a difference.

Educators agree that helped college-bound students keep focused on Day 1. They hope the elimination of social studies and writing tests on Day 2 — which shortens the test-taking time — will improve focus as well.

But schools across the board still struggle with how to motivate lower-performing stu-dents.

Lemont High School officials hope its new "beat the spread" challenge will do the trick.

Research shows scores in-crease an average of four points from the PLAN test — a "pre-ACT" — given to sophomores to the ACT given to juniors.

Lemont will showcase any student who "beats the spread" and increases their score by five or more points. Their names will be posted in the hallways or read on school an-nouncements.

"Even a special-education student potentially could be recognized," said
Lemont High School data analyst Kathy Brockette. "(Individual im-provement is) something the state doesn't recognize."

Peoria scores IHSA repeat
Boys state hoops tourney to stay at Carver Arena for 5 more years
Peoria Journal Star, 4/27/05

This time, even the guy representing Champaign-Urbana had to concede.

By a unanimous tally of 10-0, the board of directors for the Illinois High School Association voted Tuesday to keep the state boys basketball tournaments in
Peoria for the next five years. Ten years ago, when Peoria took the tournament from the University of Illinois site after 77 years, the board vote was 6-1. The dissenting vote came from Division 5, which includes Champaign-Urbana.

This year, looking to capitalize on the recent success of the
Illinois men's basketball team, Champaign submitted a competing bid in hopes of returning the event to Assembly Hall.

Peoria proposal was clearly better," IHSA executive director Marty Hickman told the Journal Star.

That proposal, outlined in detail at an afternoon news conference at Caterpillar Inc.'s Downtown headquarters, included an annual pledge of $102,000 from Cat and $42,000 from AmerenCILCO. All told,
Peoria's pledge to the IHSA - which includes cash, facilities, services and support staff - is worth more than $600,000 per year.

For that investment, the community stands to gain 10 times that amount. The Peoria Area Convention and Visitors Bureau estimates the two weekends of March Madness combine to generate more than $6 million for the local economy, the largest grossing event of the year.

"This would not have been possible if not for the total cooperation of the city," Cat executive Don Western, chairman of the March Madness Steering Committee, told a room full of civic leaders. "With 2,500 volunteers and corporate support, we weren't going to be denied."

Denial summed up the reaction in

"I believe the decision is flat-out wrong," U.S. Rep. Tim Johnson, (R-

R-Urbana, told the News-Gazette. "I don't dislike
Peoria, but the tradition, history and facilities can't compare."

A recruiting tool?

Champaign's renewed interest in hosting the tournament after a 10-year absence was rekindled when Illinois basketball coach Bruce Weber said he thought its presence on campus could help recruit basketball players. After a decade of indifference, that community put together a bid package spearheaded by the university's athletic department.

"Both bids were extremely attractive, and each brought a number of strengths to the table," Hickman said.

"But in the end,
Peoria's commitment to creating a first-class environment and atmosphere for our competitors and fans, and its confluence of arena, hotels, and restaurants all within walking distance of one another were the determining factors in this decision."

A great Experience

Peoria has been lauded for integrating the March Madness Experience, a basketball carnival in the exhibit hall adjacent to Carver Arena, into the event.

The Assembly Hall doesn't have the necessary space to duplicate the Experience.

"I think what hurts us is not having a convention center close to the basketball arena,"
Champaign mayor Jerry Schweighart told the News-Gazette.

That could change, however, as groundbreaking on a $24 million hotel, restaurant and conference center near Assembly Hall is expected to take place in mid-August.

"Once we get that, we'll be back in business," Schweighart said, noting
Champaign plans to toss its hat in the ring again in 2010.

Dana Brenner, associate athletics director at
Illinois and a major player in Champaign-Urbana's bid committee, did not return calls seeking comment.

Full details unavailable

Full details of
Champaign's financial package were not available, but one published report gave an indication of the wide margin between the two proposals.

The Champaign County Convention and Visitors Bureau agreed to provide a total of $65,000 over five years to the IHSA.

By comparison,
Peoria's contribution from the public sector is $165,000 per year, $40,000 of that coming from a late addition of hotel, restaurant and amusement tax dollars.

A total of 40 public and private entities combined to kick in the other $400,000-plus.

On the road again

Out on the recruiting trail, Weber wasn't available for comment. But someone else in the
Illinois basketball office was happy to hear the news.

"That's great," Cindy Butkovich, a native Peorian who is Weber's secretary, said of her hometown retaining the tournament. "(
Peoria) is where it belongs. There's not nearly the volunteer and corporate support here as there is in Peoria."

In the end, those factors - community and corporate support - were enough to sway even that board member representing Champaign and guarantee five more years of March Madness in Carver Arena.

Peoria community has continued to demonstrate an almost uncanny commitment to host this event," Hickman said.

"We're certainly happy to be coming back."

Waive the waiver requirement
Belleville News-Democrat Editorial, 4/27/05

Do we have to celebrate Casimir Pulaski Day? State educators are as tired of answering that question as local schools are of asking it.

But in
Illinois, the law illogically mandates this bureaucratic game of "Mother May I." If a school district wants to hold class on Pulaski Day, Lincoln's birthday or any other holiday, it has to hold a public hearing and request a waiver from the Illinois State Board of Education. This school year, 77 school districts applied for and received a holiday waiver. Since 1995, 93 percent of school districts statewide have received one.

Why can't local schools decide holidays for themselves? Twice, in 2002 and 2003, bills were defeated that would have allowed that.

Some waivers are handled directly by lawmakers. In May, they will be asked to consider 84 waiver requests on topics also better left to local districts.

For example, 16 districts want to charge more for driver's education than the $50 state law allows. They likely will be given permission. Out of 140 driver's ed waiver requests sent to lawmakers in recent years, just two have been denied.

State law also requires that physical education be taught daily -- the only subject with that requirement. Out of 478 requests acted on by the state board or lawmakers in recent years, just four have been denied.

What a waste of public officials' time and the taxpayers' money. But lawmakers love control, even when it's just a rubber stamp. The attitude helps explain why schools are tangled up in so much red tape.

Public schools' exclusion of religion does students great disservice
Commentary by Jean Bethke Elshtain, professor of social and political ethics at the
University of Chicago, Chicago Tribune, 4/27/05
The release this week of the "Bible Literacy Report" showing 98 percent of high school English teachers believe public school students need to know the Bible and that only 8 percent of public schools teach an elective course on the Bible raises a question: Why the radical disconnect between what teachers profess we should do in public schools and what is actually done?

From the beginning of schools in
America nearly 400 years ago and until recently, the Bible was an essential part of school education. In many cases, it was the sole textbook.

The first printed reader for schoolchildren, "The New England Primer," published in the late 17th Century, drew heavily upon the Bible and was a very popular book used all the way up until the 1890s. The "McGuffey Readers," popular in the 19th Century, also drew heavily upon the Bible.

Working on my biography of the great American reformer Jane Addams, I saw her well-worn copy of the classic "Pilgrims Progress" by John Bunyan. Given that Addams saw her life through the lens of a goal-oriented pilgrimage, not to understand that is not to understand her.

The fate of Bible literacy in
America tells an interesting tale. In 1963, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that the morning reading of the Bible as well as religious exercises was devotional and thus inappropriate for public schools.

One can certainly understand the reasoning behind such a holding. At the same time, Justice Tom Clark, in writing the majority opinion in Abington vs. Shempp, stated: "Nothing we have said here indicates that such study of the Bible or of religion, when presented objectively as part of a secular program of education, may not be effected consistently with the 1st Amendment."

With this ruling, the safer course for public education around the country seemed to be to eliminate the Bible from schools and classrooms altogether, although this was not then and is not now constitutionally mandated. Over the years educators have seen that not to grant the Bible any place in public education is, in many ways, to offer an incomplete education.

Those of us in higher education, especially if we teach subjects that touch on religion, political life, philosophy, the humanities generally, see the deleterious effects of Bible illiteracy on a regular basis. Even a popular novelist like P.D. James, she of the Adam Dalgliesh mysteries, wrote a book called "The Children of Men" and in it there is a female character named Miriam who is central to the safe birth of a child under terrible circumstances. Not one of my students in that class could identify her as the sister of Moses who sees to it that her brother, floating downstream in the bulrushes, is rescued by an Egyptian princess.

It is not surprising to me that English teachers found that students without Bible knowledge take more time to teach and often appear "confused, stumped and clueless" when asked to parse certain passages or offer interpretations of fundamental texts in politics and law. Abraham Lincoln's speeches are laced through and through with biblical references and prophetic passages. He understood slavery as a great sin and placed it within a theological context as well as a political one.

I am heartened by the release of this study, as well as by the increasing recognition of the academic community, that excluding religion is unsound academically. Much of what drives the burgeoning interest in courses on religion in colleges and universities is student interest and demand.

Courses such as "Christian Literature" or "The Bible and Human Rights" are overenrolled everywhere one looks. That being the case, it makes no sense to starve our public school students by eliminating the Bible and religion from the curriculum, given overwhelming interest of students in the subject and the legal and academic support for it.

How can we be truly multicultural, in the best sense, if we do not understand our own culture? It is impossible for us to evaluate other ways of life without some strong understanding of the roots of our own.

'Skill gap' between races stagnant
By Kate N. Grossman, Sun-Times Education Reporter, 4/28/05

The achievement gap between blacks and whites has stayed the same since 1990, and absent significant changes, the gulf could persist for much of the 21st century, according to new research by a
University of Chicago economist.

This is in contrast to much of the 20th century, when the national achievement or "skill gap" between white and black students and young adults -- as measured by test scores, years of schooling and graduation rates -- decreased sharply.

"There are all kinds of things that could happen in the coming decades that could get us back on course, but if we extrapolate the current trends, things look really bleak," said Derek Neal, whose research will be published in the fall in the Handbook of Economics of Education. "We can't wait around and hope things get better."

Neal documented how the gap didn't narrow in the 1990s, and even grew slightly, and showed how African-American youth in urban centers lost significant ground relative to white students in test scores during the 1980s and 1990s.

Chicago statistics

Chicago, for example, racial gaps in graduation rates increased between 1991 and 2001, according to the Consortium on Chicago School Research at the University of Chicago. Between 1997 and 2004, the gap in reading and math scores also widened, a consortium analysis found. The consortium wasn't involved with Neal's study.

Neal laid out several variables that could explain these trends, though he did not endorse any theory. The factors disproportionately affected black parents and children starting in the 1980s.

These include dropping employment rates and wages for low-skilled workers, growing prison rates for black males, the crack epidemic, differences in black and white investments in their children and how they parent.

By 2000, for example, about half of the black males between 26 and 35 who dropped out of high school weren't working, and a quarter were institutionalized, usually in prison. Neal also reported a dramatic rise in mothers who never married among blacks with no postsecondary schooling between 1980 and 1990, as well as a drop in earnings for black parents of preschool kids. In 1980, blacks earned 68 percent as much as whites. By, 2000, it was 56 percent.

"What we have in the 1990s is very little progress in test scores and educational attainment for young [black] adults, who were born in the 1980s, in the middle of that chaos," Neal said. "I have no proof that the two are connected. What I do know is that I have identified in gory detail that there is a problem."

On a national test, black 9- and 13-year-olds made striking gains in reading and math from the late 1970s through the late 1980s, but then the gap stopped closing.

Family resources in a child's early years are especially crucial, Neal notes, because black children typically start first grade significantly behind whites.

In his paper, which culled data from the census, national labor and education statistics and from other researchers, Neal explores whether differing investments by blacks and whites in their young children are driven simply by economics and time or also by cultural norms.

Early teaching strategy

One tool Neal highlights to help reverse the current trend is quality early childhood education, an intervention well-established by research. The
Chicago public school system, for example, has an academic-based preschool program that includes classes for parents at its "Child-Parent Centers."

University of Wisconsin researcher, who wasn't profiled by Neal, has followed for nearly 20 years the low-income, mostly black kids who went to one of the centers in the 1980s. He found higher high school graduation rates, lower juvenile arrest rates and more total years of schooling than for kids in other preschool programs.

President Bush's 2002 No Child Left Behind law, which measures schools based on the performance of all subgroups, including blacks, was passed in large part to help close achievement data. Neal's data aren't relevant because they largely end in 2000.

Neal and colleagues who reviewed his work said they hope the trend since 1990 is only an aberration.

"There are a lot of things from the 20th century that I don't plan for the 21st, like Jim Crow and other things that retarded progress," said Roland Fryer, a Harvard economist. "I'm actually quite optimistic that we'll achieve parity. . . . But it's not crazy to look at those numbers and say [the gap could persist well into the 21st century]. Only time will tell."


St. Charles schools add breath meters to anti-drinking tool kit
By Gary Gibula, Special to the Tribune, 4/28/05

St. Charles school officials are hoping students will think twice about drinking now that District 303 will be using Breathalyzer-type devices at its high schools.

School officials said the hand-held breath-alcohol meters will be used privately on an individual whose conduct suggests that the student may be under the influence of alcohol. After a positive test result, the district's standard disciplinary procedures would apply, including the possibility of the student being reported to the police, school officials said.

The Alco-Sensor FST devices, which are funded by a grant from the St. Charles Youth Commission, will be used next month at both East and North high schools.

Student Assistance Counselor Stacy Anderson said school staff will likely use the devices at senior proms, which will be held May 7 at East and May 14 at North.

"Alcohol abuse is a dangerous activity for kids," said Anderson, who obtained the $1,050 grant. "The kids are saying that this will be a deterrent."

"It's another tool we can use to more accurately assess the likelihood of whether a student is under the influence of alcohol," said Tom Hernandez, District 303 director of communications.

The device measures air to determine alcohol content and will provide tangible evidence to confirm whether a student is intoxicated, school officials said. It displays a digital readout of the alcohol content of ambient air, of the air inside a container or of air blown into a tube on the device, and registers blood-alcohol content from 0 to .40, officials said.

Officials said the Alco-Sensor FST is a less-sophisticated "civilian" version of the Breathalyzer that police departments use.

"This time of year we always worry about kids having accidents, and how everyone wonders after the fact what more could have been done," St. Charles Police Chief James Lamkin told the school board this week. "We're hoping this will make a difference."

School officials said breath tests may be conducted under laws that permit police officers with drug-sniffing dogs to conduct searches on school property.

"Complain as they may, kids want to know there are people looking out for them," said Rev. Rich French of the St. Charles Youth Commission. "It may be an after-the-fact measure, but I still think it shows we care about the kids."

Illinois Department of Transportation statistics show that of drivers ages 16 to 24 who were fatally injured in accidents, more than half tested had a positive blood-alcohol concentration, Lamkin said.

"Our students' safety and well being is, and must be, our top concern," Supt. Barbara Erwin said in a statement.


U-46, Dist. 300 parents get lesson in school funding
By Tara Malone, Daily Herald Staff Writer,
A handful of
Fox Valley parents reported for class Thursday night.

The teacher? State Sen. Steve Rauschenberger.

The lesson?
Illinois’ intricate system of education funding.

“It is an algorithm that is completely indiscernible,” the Elgin Republican legislator said of the state’s public education system, which draws the bulk of its funding from property taxes.

Property taxes, though, are governed by tax caps that limit the increase in a district’s annual collection to 5 percent or the inflation rate.

The state pitches in about 36 percent of the dollars needed to bankroll education in the state’s 800-plus school districts. Federal dollars contribute about 10 percent of the operating cost.

Add it all together, Rauschenberger said, and you’ll see a steady climb in education funding during recent years. Total education funding statewide inched from $9.3 billion in 1991 to $19 billion in 2003.

“There is consistency to it,” Rauschenberger told a group of 40 parents drawn from Elgin Area School District U-46 and
Community Unit School District 300. “I’m not saying there’s adequacy, but there is consistency.”

With three-quarters of
Illinois’ school districts operating in the red, though, the push to retool funding for public education gains muscle.

“At some point the system is going to break,” said Linda Morning, an
Elgin woman who lives in U-46 and teaches at 300’s Dundee Middle School. “It’s being stretched so thin.”

Some call for a shift away from the property tax, instead increasing personal income tax to 5 percent, spiking the corporate income tax to 8 percent, folding retirement money into taxable personal income and broadening sales tax to include entertainment and personal services.

Still others tout plans to bump to 51 percent the state’s financial contribution to schools, up from its current share that hovers around 35 percent.

Yet swapping one tax for another, Rauschenberger cautioned, may not resolve issues of funding equity. Chris Romeo, for one, agreed.

“Our problem isn’t the supply,” the west
Elgin parent said. “Our problem is how it’s spent.”

By rallying together parents from
Illinois’ second largest district and one of its fast growing, Romeo said parents from U-46 and 300 hope to draw more attention to the funding issue.

“It’s like everything else,” Romeo said. “Numbers count.”

Home-school mom charged with allowing truancy
Southern Illinoisan, 4/29/05

MARION - Williamson County State's Attorney Charles Garnati is taking a tougher stance with parents who fail to follow established curriculum guidelines when home schooling their children.

On Thursday, he announced at a press conference that he has charged
Marion resident Kim Harris with permitting truancy, a Class C misdemeanor punishable up to 30 days in jail and a $500 fine. Harris is said to have willingly and knowingly allowed her 15-year-old son to be truant.

Garnati stressed that he supports home-schooling in general, just not for parents who abuse the privilege.

Some parents have allowed their children to be truant from public schools, and when threatened with legal action, have pulled their children from that school to avoid prosecution, Garnati said.

"It's what I call an end around," Garnati said. "These are parents who have no intention of home-schooling their child. Unfortunately, there is no law on the books that criminalizes improper home schooling. What concerns me are those children who are chronically truant from school."
Illinois, chronic truancy is 10 percent absenteeism from the classroom. In Williamson County, Garnati said, he files truancy charges against four to five parents each year. Harris is the first, however, who claimed to be home-schooling her child at the time charges were filed.

"Our priority is to get children back in school and not have to take the parents or kids to court," Garnati said.

Admitting that the Harris case is pretty much a "test" case, Garnati said he made his decision to prosecute after he and
Marion school district

officials had exhausted all other efforts to solve the problem.

Mickey Sullivan, truant officer with the regional superintendent of schools office in Herrin, said the number of truancy cases has dwindled in the county under Garnati's watch. But she believes the number of children who are home-schooled who are not receiving proper instruction has increased.

"People don't have to register with our office if they decide to home-school their kids," Sullivan said. "The only way we know the student is being home-schooled is if the parent pulls the student from the school for whatever reason or if we get a report that the student has been seen out on the streets. Otherwise, it's hard to track."

Sullivan said one of the keys to solving truancy and delinquent home-schooling parents is for state's attorneys and judges to take a tough stand with the families involved.

"You don't generally go to jail for truancy, but you can for contempt of court if the judge orders you to go to school and you don't go," Sullivan said. "Fortunately,
Williamson County is one of the few counties that will support truancy laws."

In the Harris case, Sullivan said she made three trips to the residence to see if there was an established curriculum. In each case, however, she found that there wasn't one.

"She didn't produce any evidence of home-schooling," Sullivan said. "It's important that we send the message to those parents who are not home-schooling their kids properly that they can be prosecuted."

Marion High School Principal Gerald Murphy said the dispute is not whether or not children are enrolled in public schools or home-schooled, but rather if the parents who choose to home school are trying to get around the system and not provide a quality education for their child.

Education isn't only answers; it's knowing the questions
Rockford Register Star Editorial, 4/29/05

If there were three things you could ask your children every day and make them better students, would you do it?

We hope so.

The questions are as simple as:

What happened at school today?

What did you like and what did you learn?

And, what's the plan for tomorrow?

The questions were part of a lecture, "What Makes Schools Successful: New Roles for Parents and Teachers," by John G. Borkowski at
Rockford College on Wednesday night. Borkowski is a professor of psychology at the University of Notre Dame.

Education has gone wrong for a number of reasons, Borkowski said. Those reasons include the breakdown of the family (divorce and single parenthood); the complacency of the public; inadequate resources; lack of local leadership; inadequate teacher preparation; a lack of incentives for teaching excellence; and too much bureaucracy and too much testing.

But parents remain a huge part of the equation. Effective schools don't happen without parents being their kids' first -- and most important -- teacher. Without parent involvement, Borkowski said, improving schools is a terribly tough road to follow.

"The teacher supplements the parent, not the parent supplements the teacher," he said.

That can be a rude reality in a school district like
Rockford, where research shows at least one child in four lives in a single-parent household and where low incomes force parents to work two and three jobs. There are 3,018 families in Winnebago County headed by a single mother living on less than $13,000 a year.

Putting the priority on education is difficult in a family where the parent is expending every ounce of energy just to survive.

Still, a parent asking the three questions above speaks volumes about the value placed on school. Parents who care, ask. If they ask, "How was your day?" and get the answer, "fine," that's not enough. If they ask, "What did you learn today," and get, "Nothing," that's no good either. The conversation must continue until the child comes up with something that seemed fun or relevant or interesting.

The questions are crucial tools in what Borkowski calls parent unions, which are common in every effective school. He doesn't mean the PTA or PTO (although these organizations obviously perform needed functions).

Encouraging parent volunteerism and participation in school activities is actually the least important ingredient of effective schools. Much more important, Borkowski says, is communication -- keeping parents informed about their child's progress and letting them know about special learning opportunities that can reinforce classroom lessons. The most innovative schools use community as context for learning. For example, a class would work in a soup kitchen one week and read "Grapes of Wrath" the next.

Effective schools also have shared goals. They post sayings in the hall such as, "Work hard," "Get Smart," "Believe in Yourself," "Your I-Will is more important than your IQ," or "Smart is something you earn, not something you are." They develop motivational systems that encourage children to see themselves as successes as adults and how to plan for it.

Successful schools concentrate on the processes that make us better learners rather than just the skills. Good readers are more than "word callers." They are people who summarize and predict and relate the information to their life as they read.

Finally, good schools teach children "sense-making." The students know why they are learning, and it's not to get into a good school, get a good job or a good grade. "That's a terrible goal, the search for an A," Borkowski said.

The high-stakes testing mandated by the federal government's No Child Left Behind Act has made it harder for schools to innovate. It has made it harder to teach the process of learning, rather than the reams of information that students will be required to know by the end of the year.

But parents have no such limitations. It is their mandate, their responsibility, to teach a love of learning for learning's own sake. It starts at home. It starts with three questions.

An investment in our future
State Journal-Register Editorial, 4/29/05

The controversy and fallout over the Central Management Services audit this week could leave many with the impression that state government has trouble getting much of anything right.

That, of course, would be a faulty assumption. From the lowest-paid clerical worker right up to the governor, state government does plenty right. So this might be a good time to note something beleaguered Gov. Rod Blagojevich has gotten exceptionally right - expanding early childhood education in

If we look at
Illinois as a house, we can view prekindergarten education as its foundation. Over the past two years, Blagojevich has helped make the foundation much more solid. In his early days in office, Blagojevich pledged to provide an additional $30 million for preschool education for the following three years. This is year three.

The additional $90 million would mean 25,000 more at-risk 3- and 4-year-olds would have the chance to attend quality preschool programs.

With the multibillion-dollar deficits facing the state, it would have been easy enough for the governor and the General Assembly to speak platitudes about the importance of funding the schooling of our youngest citizens but explain that the money "is just not there now."

However, in both of the last two years, the Blagojevich administration pushed and the General Assembly accepted that preschool funding was a priority. The state will be better off for their wisdom. We are sure state officials still believe preschool funding is important. But we also know that conventional wisdom would suggest receiving funding increases three years in a row during such dour fiscal days is difficult. In this case, we should disregard conventional wisdom.

Preschool education is far too important not to remain a funding priority. An abundance of empirical evidence exists to prove that a quality preschool experience translates into a more productive K-12 education. And that, of course, translates into more productive citizens.

But the lobbying effort for preschool funding has been effective, in part, because some of its most vocal proponents are not teachers, but rather law enforcement officers. Springfield Police Chief Don Kliment and Sangamon County Sheriff
Neil Williamson, both members of the lobbying group Fight Crime: Invest in Kids, were anxious to meet with us to push for additional funding for preschool.

Odd? Not really. Kliment and Williamson have read the research, and they know that, bottom line, quality preschool equates to fewer future criminals. Study after study - including a massive, long-term study of 100,000 3- and 4-year-olds in
Chicago, have shown the link between getting kids off to a good start in school and keeping them away from crime later in life. In fact, the Chicago study showed that at-risk kids who did not attend a preschool program were 70 percent more likely to have been arrested for a violent crime by the time they turned 18.

It is tempting to focus on putting out fiscal fires, but real leaders also focus on long-term investments - even when times are rough. Gov. Blagojevich was recently named a "Pre-K budget hero" by the national organization Pre-K Now for his leadership on the issue in
Illinois. It's a nice honor, and one he deserves along with the General Assembly for making preschool a priority.

But what is far more important is that somewhere within the billions of dollars of the fiscal 2006 budget, Blagojevich and the General Assembly carve out a relatively meager $30 million to continue the vital enhancement of preschool education in Illinois.




School bus study warns of fumes
Shari Roan, Los Angeles Times, 4/24/05

Most kids probably think the worst thing about riding a school bus is the bully who sits in the back seat. In fact, the bitter fumes emitted from the buses may be doing them more harm, according to a
Los Angeles study with implications for schoolchildren across the country.

The problem is that exhaust from the vehicles, particularly older buses, can leak into the cabin.

The study, published this month in the journal Environmental Science & Technology, is the first to examine how much exhaust is breathed in on school buses. The study was conducted by
University of California researchers from Berkeley and Los Angeles.

The experiment revealed that concentrations of key air pollutants were higher inside the bus cabins than outside the cabins.The study found that in a single day, a child riding a school bus will breathe in anywhere from 7 to 70 times more exhaust from his bus than a typical L.A. resident will inhale from all school bus emissions combined.

Diesel exhaust particles may contribute to numerous health problems, including cancer. "The current research is finding that it's not only an issue for the lungs but for the heart as well," said Julian Marshall, a
Berkeley doctoral student and study co-author.
Cell towers meet schools' income need
Dallas Morning News, 4/25/05

The cellphone's growing popularity does more than fatten the wallets of mobile phone companies. School districts from
Dallas to Fort Worth have been cashing in, too.

For more than 10 years, area school systems have been pulling in extra bucks by awarding leases to cellphone companies that attach antennas to stadium lights, flagpoles and other tall places, administrators say. And where there was no sufficient
high point, the companies erected towers to bounce signals from one location to another.

"In hard times it's a way to try to pick up some revenue,"
Plano school district administrator Tom Kimbrough said. "And at the same time it serves the community."

Interest in antennas at schools appears to be growing almost as fast as the mobile phone business.

Plano, which welcomed the district's first antenna in 1992, has antennas at eight locations. But the district would like to bring in more, Mr. Kimbrough said. Richardson, which has three, hopes to soon add another. And McKinney schools officials will soon enter the market. Officials there recently approved a contract for the district's first tower, at an elementary school.

Officials say tight budgets and drying revenue sources are forcing them to be creative in their approaches to finding money.

Lease values vary with each district, but the monthly rate ranges from $1,000 to $2,000.
Dallas, for instance, has 10 leases that bring in about $10,000 a year, officials said. Irving leases sites at two high schools for $1,500 a month.

Plano, where leases bring in about $144,000 annually, administrators hope to expand. Officials recently settled on a contract with Verizon Wireless for a tower on the roof of the district's administration building. That tower would net Plano $24,000 per year, Mr. Kimbrough said.

"You can see the opportunity," he said. "Say you have 10 of them at $24,000 a year over 10 years. That's $2.4 million."

McKinney's lease would bring in $36,000 per a year, officials said. The district could demand a premium monthly rate – $3,000 – because Walker Elementary School is in a residential area of the city where deed restrictions limit opportunities to place antennas, McKinney assistant superintendent Dennis Womack said.

"Before we were willing to consider it, the rate had to be above average," Mr. Womack said.

Some might argue that $36,000 is not much when you consider
McKinney's $140 million annual budget, district spokeswoman Diana Gulotta said. But in a school district that has had to cut programs to balance its budget in recent years, the extra money helps, she said.

"You can look at it like it's not a lot of money, but that's a teacher's salary," she said.

Schools are useful locations for antennas, said Peter Kavanagh, a consultant who serves as a liaison between schools and cellphone companies. They are typically located in residential areas where there are few options for erecting a tower or attaching an antenna to a building.

"The west part of
McKinney is a good example of that," Mr. Kavanagh said. "There are acres and acres of residential property. Institutions like schools are right in the middle of it."

Mr. Kavanagh said the area's five prominent cellphone companies probably have about 1,500 antenna sites around the
Dallas-Fort Worth region. About 5 percent of those are at schools or churches.

Though they generate cash and smiles among some, cellular antennas and towers don't please everyone.

A group of
McKinney residents opposes the school district's plans to place a cellular tower at Walker Elementary, said Mark Rude, who has a child at the school. Homeowners say that it would hurt property values and that parents worry about the potential health risks to children.

"The small financial benefit that the district would receive is not worth the risk," Mr. Rude said.

Mr. Womack said the district's agreement with Verizon calls for a "stealth tower" that would stand no taller than 70 feet behind the school. It would be a white, narrow pole, much like a flagpole, with the antennas inside.

The Federal Communications Commission, which regulates the cellphone industry, says there is no known risk associated with towers and antennas that comply with FCC safety guidelines.

"There is no reason to believe that such towers could constitute a potential health hazard to nearby residents or students," says an FCC report on radio frequency safety.

Amid Affluence, a Struggle Over Special Education

WESTPORT, Conn., April 20 - "Legal Issues in School Health Services," all 662 pages of it, is a popular read among school administrators in this wealthy town on the Long Island Sound. Parents, however, are more likely to be poring over Gary Mayerson's "How to Compromise With Your School District Without Compromising Your Child," or "Wrightslaw: Special Education Law," by Peter W. D. Wright and Pamela Darr Wright.
Special education is a hot topic here, with school board meetings exploding into shouting matches over what services children are entitled to under federal law and parents spending thousands of dollars on appeals to force the school district to provide those services for their children.

The parents say they have no choice: the district, one of the state's most affluent, is fighting just as hard to hold the line on skyrocketing special education costs.

"The sign outside
Westport should say: 'Don't Move Here. We Don't Take Care of Special Ed,' " said Stanley Alintoff, a parent who said he has spent more than $100,000 challenging Westport's decision to revoke special accommodations his daughter was receiving because of a digestive disorder.

With an estimated 5.7 million children in the
United States qualifying for special education, similar struggles are playing out around the country. Federal laws aimed at protecting the disabled entitle those who qualify to a free and "appropriate" education tailored to their needs. But the definition of "appropriate" differs from town to town, leaving much to quarrel about.

The battle is particularly intense in the suburbs, where wealthy, educated parents no longer see special education as a stigma or trap. They are pressing hard for services and accommodations to address their children's learning needs, from extra time on tests to tuition for private schools. But many suburban school districts are aggressively challenging some of the requests as indulgent interpretations of the law.

Hamilton County, Tenn., for instance, school officials spent $2.2 million on lawyers and expert witnesses to avoid having to reimburse Maureen and Philip Deal the $60,000 annual cost of providing their autistic son, Zachary, with one-on-one behavioral training. Administrators warned that giving in could have made the district responsible for $10 million a year in services for other children. In December, the United States Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit sided largely with the parents. The district is reviewing its options.

In Calaveras County, Calif., the Bret Harte Union High School District fought so hard to block the claims of a student that Judge Oliver W. Wanger of United States District Court took 83 pages to berate the district's "hard-line position" and its law firm for "willfully and vexatiously" dragging out the case so long that the former student is now 24.

Similar battles are under way in
Westport, a town of gracious homes and six- and seven-figure incomes, where both Mandarin Chinese and Latin will be taught next fall at the high school, remodeled recently at a cost of $76 million. Westport's school district has spent more than $2 million on legal fees and settlement costs in the last six years to fight parents' complaints that special education students get short shrift.

As of last week, the district reported, 564 children, or 11 percent of
Westport's student body, qualified for special education. Some are getting as little as a few hours of weekly speech therapy. Others get tuition for private school or home tutoring.

Dr. Elliott Landon, the superintendent of
Westport's schools, and Cynthia Gilchrest, the director of pupil services, acknowledged that tensions were high. But they insisted that their decisions were not based on cost. "In the years I've been here in special ed, it's what is best for kids," said Dr. Landon, who ran three other school districts before taking the Westport job six years ago.

His administration has denied many special education requests - horseback riding and personal trainers, for instance - that it deemed extravagant. "This is a tough community, where everyone has to be perfect, and when you don't fit that world, some people react differently than others," Dr. Landon said. "They want what they want, which oftentimes is not appropriate."

But Ron Blittstein, a father who is fighting to get his 11th grader extra time to complete tests, disputed the notion that parents like him were seeking an unfair edge. "No one wants to be in the club," he said.

Coming from
Warren, N.J., where, he said, accommodations were granted without fuss, Mr. Blittstein said that Westport's harder line could cost children their shot at an education. "They have seemingly endless resources to just wear you down, and my kid will be out of the school system in a year," he said.
While the federal government created the special education entitlement, and some states outside
New York, New Jersey and Connecticut enacted stricter laws of their own, Congress and state legislatures have failed to provide all the funding.

According to the Connecticut Conference of Municipalities, local districts shouldered 61.5 percent of the burden for special education in the 2003-4 school year. Shortfalls in state and federal funding also meant special education consumed 8 percent of local government outlays in
Connecticut, up from 6.6 percent in the late 1990s, according to the conference.

The strain on the bottom line can be intense, even in
Westport, where in the 2002-3 school year the $10.9 million spent on special education consumed 15.9 percent of the district's education spending. Still, that was below the 19.7 percent state average and the 17.5 percent average for comparable towns, according to the State Department of Education.

Dr. Landon and Nancy Harris, the business manager for
Westport's school system, said they have kept special education expenses in line through cost control, not by narrowing eligibility or skimping on services. One example they cited was the hiring of in-house occupational and physical therapists, saving the district $400,000 a year by reducing fees to outsiders. Dr. Landon said expanded "academic support" in lower grades has reduced the number of children who need special education referrals later.

But some longtime residents of
Westport said that the town's attitude toward children with special needs has shifted from the days when it opened Stepping Stones, a preschool program conceived with the disabled in mind.

"The focus of the administration changed," said Richard C. Elliott, an adjunct professor of education at Argosy University in Sarasota, Fla., who spent 30 years as a teacher and administrator in the Westport system. "It changed from asking the question, 'What's best for the child?' to asking, 'What is our minimal requirement under the law?' "

Last year, 23 requests, most of them from parents, were filed with the state from
Westport for "due process" - an administrative procedure that generally precedes a lawsuit. That was the highest number in Connecticut, according to the state. Next highest were West Hartford, with 16 requests, and Greenwich, with 15, both with larger districts than Westport.

Parents have also gone to court, and some have left the public schools or moved a few miles out of town to another district.

At school board meetings and in interviews, many parents faulted Dr. Landon, and the town's competitive culture. "Elliott Landon does not get kudos for how many special ed kids he teaches multiplication tables to," said Valerie Spellman, the mother of two autistic children, who moved her family out of the district last year. "He gets kudos for how many kids he gets into Ivy League schools."

Marsha Moses, a lawyer who advises the district, said parents were always free to supplement what taxpayers provide. "The question really comes," Ms. Moses said, "if there are public dollars being asked to fund things that may be not necessary to provide a free and appropriate education."

Well-to-do families, however, have shown a willingness to push back. Richard Ellenbogen and Dr. Debra Weissman paid $50,000 in legal fees for more than 11 days of due process hearings last year to force
Westport to pay for private school for their teenage son, who has a bipolar disorder and other problems that interfere with his ability to learn.

Westport's solution was to recommend placing him in a public school in Trumbull, which teaches special education children from the region for a fee. The hearing officer sided with the district. But the couple said that they believed the curriculum was not sufficiently challenging and that they might appeal, or move.

"The process does take over your life," said Dr. Weissman, a dermatologist, sipping tea in her kitchen. Poring over the bills, her husband, a legal consultant, said he can only wonder how different things might be if the district "spent the money on education instead of litigation."

Declining to address specific cases, Ms. Gilchrest,
Westport's director of pupil services, said that during the 2003-4 school year, "if we had said yes to every request that went to due process, it would have cost an additional $1 million." Settling those cases cost the district $309,000, she said. Thus, even with $153,000 in legal fees, she said, taxpayers saved more than $500,000.

Parents and some members of
Westport's Board of Finance point out that Ms. Gilchrest's analysis places no value on lost staff time or on the cost to society of failing those children. Critics also have trouble grasping why the district fights tooth and nail in situations where giving in would cost little. Some of the fiercest fights, they said, involve requests for extra time on tests or early dismissal so children can attend enrichment programs at parents' expense.

Ms. Gilchrest said: "We want to make sure we don't put a label of handicapped on a child that's not handicapped. That's a serious label."

Some of the parents, however, wonder whether the hard stance is also meant to warn them that life might be easier elsewhere.

For his part, Mr. Alintoff, whose case is now in court, insists he will stand his ground. "I didn't move to
Westport to send my kid to private school," he said.

Students rewarded for tattling at school
By Doug Gross, Associated Press Writer,

ATLANTA -- For a growing number of students, the easiest way to make a couple of hundred dollars has nothing to do with chores or after-school jobs, and everything to do with informing on classmates.
Tragedies like last month's deadly shooting at a Red Lake, Minn., school have prompted more schools to offer cash and other prizes -- including pizza and premium parking spots -- to students who report classmates who carry guns, drugs or alcohol, commit vandalism or otherwise break school rules.

"For kids of that age, it's hard for them to tell on their peers. This gives them an opportunity to step up if they know something that will help us make an arrest," said James Kinchen, an assistant school superintendent in Houston County, Ga., which earlier this month started offering rewards of up to $100 for reporting relatively minor crimes like vandalism or theft and $500 for information about a crime, or plans for a crime, involving a gun.

Critics call them "snitch" programs, saying they are a knee-jerk reaction to student violence. Some education professionals fear such policies could create a climate of distrust in schools and turn students against each other.

"There are very few things that I can think of that would be more effective at destroying that sense of community," said Bruce Marlowe, an education psychology professor at
Roger Williams University in Bristol, R.I.

About 2,000 schools and colleges, from
Honolulu to Palm Beach County, Fla., have adopted Student Crime Stoppers programs like Houston County, according to the nonprofit Crime Stoppers U.S.A., which began helping schools set up such programs in 1983.

Most schools offer an anonymous phone line or a school drop box for tips. Rewards range from cash to gift certificates to free parking passes.

Elsewhere in
Georgia, Model High School in Rome uses the proceeds from its candy and soda sales to pay students up to $100 for tips about drugs or weapons on campus or other crimes.

The goal: "Heading off some problems rather than waiting until they happen and responding afterward," said Tim Hensley, a school system spokesman.

Some students fear classmates with a grudge or set on making some quick money may level false accusations or plant drugs or weapons in their lockers.

Houston County's Kinchen said: "That will sort itself out. Our officers deal with these kind of things every day; they can find out which kid is being set up and which kid is telling the truth."

At Model High, some of the 650 students complain that the program wrongly implies their school is dangerous. In a Rome News-Tribune cartoon, the school's official mascot was mockingly changed from the Blue Devils to the "Tattlers."

No one has received a reward yet at Model High.

"Everyone just thinks it's a joke. No one is going to tell on their friends for cash," said senior Katie Burnes, president of the school's National Honor Society chapter. "If someone brings a gun to school or is doing drugs in the bathroom, no one has to pay me to let the teachers know."

Frank Farley, an educational psychology professor at
Temple University in Philadelphia, said students should be taught to speak up without being offered a reward.

"This idea of surveillance -- there's something unsavory there," Farley said. "We're familiar with the history of that in the former
Soviet Union and Nazi Germany." He added: "I think it's bad civics."

Trying Times for Special Ed
Many Hours Are Spent On
Md. Test Preparation For Severely Disabled
By Daniel de Vise, Washington Post Staff Writer,

Shykell Pinkney is in the seventh grade, but her developmental age is three months. Her teacher communicates with Shykell the only way possible, by holding two or three symbols in front of her face and watching to see whether her head turns to focus on one of them.

Shykell has Rett syndrome, a neurological disorder. She cannot write, point or speak. But her teacher, Paula Gentile, had to spend nearly 30 hours testing her on a battery of academic tasks -- 10 in reading, 10 in math -- to measure her academic performance under the federal No Child Left Behind law.
So Gentile and her colleagues at
Ruth Parker Eason School in Anne Arundel County found some tasks Shykell might be able to complete. With sufficient help, she could distinguish between the sounds made by the letters P and M and recognize the title of a picture book when a recording of it was played for her. Gentile and her colleagues went through the tasks one by one and watched Shykell for any hint of a response.

"Half the time you were trying to get information, this poor little girl would be falling asleep," Gentile said.

Maryland students are judged too mentally disabled to take the Maryland School Assessment, the statewide exam designed to measure the performance of students and schools under No Child Left Behind. Federal law allows 1 percent of students to take the Alternate Maryland School Assessment, or Alt-MSA, an individualized test designed to assess students at their own instructional levels rather than at grade level. Statewide, 5,862 students in grades three through eight and grades 10 and 11 took the alternative exam last year.

Special education teachers across
Maryland say the test is a waste of time.

Teachers routinely spend 40, 80 or 100 work hours over several months to complete the test, whose counterpart, the regular MSA, takes six hours in a single week. In their view, the students with the smallest stake in No Child Left Behind spend the most time meeting its requirements.

Teachers also object to the content of the Alt-MSA, which is based on a statewide curriculum written for students who are learning reading and math. Many children who take the Alt-MSA will never read, write or compute, and a good number will never speak. They typically spend the school day learning life skills: how to communicate with their eyes or their hands, how to feed themselves and how to make change, tell time or function in a menial job. Teachers say their goals and the goals of the Alt-MSA are, in many cases, utterly divergent.

"I never have a parent ask me for 10 reading goals," said Gerry Reed, a special education teacher at
Germantown Elementary School in Montgomery County. "They want their children feeding themselves and toilet-trained and to have job skills. And I don't see this test getting them there."

Felicia Smith-Walker, the mother of a 13-year-old student at
Eason School in Millersville, said she believes the test distracts teachers from more important business.

"They're talking about reading and all this stuff, and we can't even get our kids to feed themselves and to sit up properly. It's irrelevant," she said.

Of the 73 students graded on the Alt-MSA reading test last year at
Eason School, 16 were rated proficient, five were advanced and the rest were rated basic, the lowest of three performance levels.

One of the students who was rated proficient, 11th-grader Tosha Riley, is blind, cannot speak, feed herself or go to the bathroom independently, and she cannot move her limbs without help.

Students such as Tosha completed the test with extensive help from teachers, who, when necessary, are permitted to move students' hands to the correct answer. Teachers said they felt reduced to puppeteers.

"So what does all this prove?" asked Carol Petrosky, a teacher at
Eason School.

Reducing the Workload

Administrators of the test at the Maryland State Department of Education have met with teachers, heard their complaints and are working on ways to reduce the workload. They expect the test to get easier over time as teachers learn the format and build a repertoire of standard test questions for their students.

But excluding severely disabled children from the statewide test "simply isn't an option," said Carol Ann Baglin, an assistant state superintendent who oversees special education.

Federal law permits states to create an alternative test for students with the most severe disabilities.
Virginia, for example, has an Alternate Assessment Program for students who cannot take the Standards of Learning exam.

In the District, the most disabled students take the District of Columbia Alternate Assessment. Officials from both jurisdictions said they had not heard of widespread teacher complaints.

Students with disabilities in
Maryland have taken statewide tests since the early 1990s, part of a federal effort to hold the special education community responsible for academic results. A more ambitious generation of tests followed No Child Left Behind, which set a goal that nearly every student, including those in special education, show proficiency at grade-level reading and math by 2014.

Some states, especially
Massachusetts, have demonstrated that academic progress is possible even with severely disabled students, said Rachel Quenemoen, senior research fellow at the National Center on Educational Outcomes at the University of Minnesota. But special education teachers everywhere have struggled with the new tests.

"Every state that has asked their teachers to change their practice for this group of children has had a backlash," said Quenemoen, whose federally funded center helps states include special education students in statewide assessments.

U.S. Education Secretary Margaret Spellings showed flexibility in announcing this month that an additional 2 percent of students nationwide -- beyond the 1 percent who take alternative assessments -- will be permitted to take modified exams, recognizing that they probably will never perform at grade level.

For students who take the Alt-MSA, there is no expectation of grade-level work. This year's academic objectives and last year's may be essentially the same.

At Germantown Elementary, Reed and two adult para-educators teach a class of five children ages 6 to 10. One of the five was toilet-trained at the start of the school year. Now three can use the toilet unaided. Three students can eat without assistance, and two have some capacity of speech.

"Who wants a turn to see what's behind the egg?" Ann Marie Schmaltz, a speech pathologist, asked on a recent morning. She held up a pop-up book called "Easter Eggs."

Rather than speak, most students replied by punching a button to activate a recording preset with an adult voice that said, "I want to see the egg, please."

The point of the exercise was to help the students identify basic symbols and colors. After 10 minutes, the class had not progressed past the second page.

Reed gave the Alt-MSA to three of her students this year. She said she spent at least an hour a day on the test from October to March, when the completed exams were delivered to the state Education Department. At the end, she spent two entire school days assembling binders for each student documenting their mastery of the 20 reading and math objectives, including videotaped snippets of every child taking the test.

Reed had to test and retest the students on every objective as many times as it took for them to achieve 80 percent success, the standard required for mastery on the test.

One of her more advanced students, Mark Phillip Shadwick, 8, is severely autistic.

Among the reading objectives Reed used in his test was to see whether he could identify a symbol among three flashcards picturing such icons as a library, a McDonald's restaurant and a post office. Reed tested Mark Phillip on the objective 11 times over several weeks before he could pick the correct symbol 80 percent of the time. On Feb. 15, on the 12th attempt, he achieved mastery.

"One day they would have it, one day they wouldn't," Reed recalled. "When they reach 80 percent, I stop teaching it, knowing that tomorrow they may forget how to do it."

Kansas plans to take up evolution and creationism all over again
By John Hanna, AP,
TOPEKA, Kan. — Students in Lisa Volland's advanced biology class examine flowers, lemons and corn under the microscope, pondering how the plants evolved over time to improve their chances of survival.

Topeka West High School teacher does not discuss the biblical story of creation or "intelligent design," just "the big e-word," as she jokingly calls it.

"I don't think you can talk about living organisms without talking about evolution," she said. "We don't talk about religion."

Classrooms like Volland's have come under scrutiny — again — in Kansas' seesawing battle between left and right over the teaching of evolution.

The battle could heat up over the coming weeks, with
Kansas' State Board of Education expected to revise its science standards in June.

In 1999, the board deleted most references to evolution in the standards, bringing international ridicule and wisecracks from the late-night comedians. Elections the next year made the board less conservative, resulting in the current standards describing evolution as a key concept for students to learn.

Last year's elections gave conservatives a majority again, 6-4. A subcommittee plans six days of hearings in May, and advocates of intelligent design plan to put nearly two dozen witnesses on the stand to critique evolution.

National and state science organizations plan to boycott the hearings, contending they are going to be rigged in favor of intelligent design.

"We are concerned that the hearings will be an attempt to give scientific credibility to a nonscientific concept," said Alan Leshner, chief executive of the American Association for the Advancement of Science.

Evolution says species change in response to environmental and genetic factors over the course of many generations. Intelligent design — viewed by many scientists as merely repackaged creationism — holds there is evidence that the universe was designed by some kind of higher power.

At a minimum, conservative groups like the Discovery Institute want to see science lessons in
Kansas include more criticism of evolution.

"We don't think any textbook is good in presenting the scientific weaknesses," said John West of the Seattle-based organization.

Scientists fear that that will open the door eventually to incorporating intelligent design and creationism.

Similar battles have been waged in the past few years in
Michigan, Ohio and Pennsylvania. Ohio's state school board adopted lesson plans last year that were praised by intelligent design supporters.

Some Kansans are uneasy about evolution because of their religious faith and want to see alternatives given equal time in the classroom.

"Students ought to be given the opportunity to hear both sides," said Angel Dillard, the mother of two
Wichita girls.

The state board's standards determine what is on statewide tests, but local school boards decide what is actually taught and which textbooks are used.

In Volland's
Topeka district, for example, little or nothing is said about creationism and intelligent design in biology classes.

Similarly, at Blue Valley Northwest High in the
Kansas City suburb of Overland Park, teachers do not have to mention alternative theories, but biology teacher Jeremy Mohn did so anyway this spring, in addition to spending a month talking about evolution, including why peacocks have long tails.

At Topeka West High, Stephanie Bailey, a 14-year-old who previously attended a Lutheran school, is skeptical of evolution, particularly the notion that man and other animals have common ancestors. "Scientists don't have all the answers," she said.

But Emily Hane, a 17-year-old in Volland's class, said: "If you don't understand evolution, you don't really understand biology."

In any case, she said, creationism has, in fact, come up in school — in history class, when the topic was the 1925 Scopes Monkey Trial, in which a
Dayton, Tenn., teacher was convicted of teaching evolution.

"We're being exposed to ideas other than evolution," Hane said.

Year-rounds may spread with growth
Wake board foretells mandatory year-round schools, as well as a high school, as options dwindle for handling rising numbers of students
Raleigh News & Observer Staff Writer, 4/27/05

RALEIGH -- Rapid growth could force some Wake County schools to go to a year-round calendar and might lead to the district's first true year-round high school.

Attempts to make schools adopt a year-round calendar and to force students to attend have met with heated opposition.

But year-round schools emerged Tuesday as the
Wake County school board's major focus during a retreat dealing with crowding in the years ahead.

Because year-round schools place students on four separate tracks -- with one track always on break -- the schools can handle more students than traditional-calendar schools.

Wake County school board informally voted Tuesday to have administrators study targeting some schools in specific areas for conversion to a year-round calendar. The board wants staffers to develop guidelines under which individual schools would be converted.

No school names were mentioned. Any school conversions would happen at the earliest in the summer of 2006, they said.

"This is a reasonable response to the situation we're facing," school board Chairwoman Susan Parry said. "We have to look at all options."

Officials say they're being pressured by projections showing that Wake could pick up 20,000 students in the next five years, reaching 134,496 children. Long-range projections have Wake exceeding 200,000 students 18 years from now.

The problem is especially acute in the short term, leaders say, because after this fall, they won't have any space to add mobile classrooms at schools without taking away playgrounds and athletic space.

Nearly one in five students countywide could be in mobile classrooms or other nontraditional spaces this fall.

Wake's year-round calendar, in which students attend classes for nine weeks and take breaks for three weeks, has allowed schools to make room for about 20 percent more students than a traditional calendar allows.

Wake has 14,248 students in 15 year-round schools.

"We can't build all the schools we need," said Patti Head, school board vice chairwoman. "We don't have enough money. We may have to shift from traditional schools being the backbone to year-rounds being the backbone."

Despite the potential gains in space and construction dollars, parental opposition to converting to year-round schools has been fierce.

As recently as the fall, a proposal to convert as many as 36 elementary schools to a year-round calendar was dropped when parents complained.

But school board member Carol Parker said that the situation has become more critical now and that the board won't back down as easily.

Still, board members agreed Tuesday not to study converting all 134 county schools to a year-round calendar. There also was little support for converting all schools in certain areas to a year-round calendar or to opening all new schools as year-rounds.

Targeting schools in areas with crowded attendance zones received the most interest. Under this approach, one or more schools in an area would go to a year-round calendar, with the others remaining on a traditional calendar. New and existing schools would be considered for conversion.

Although no areas were specifically proposed, an area such as northeast
Raleigh is a prime candidate. At least some students would be required to attend the newly created year-round schools.

Year-round high school

Administrators agreed Tuesday to revive the idea of a true year-round high school.
Southeast Raleigh High School uses a schedule that is similar to, but not the same as, a year-round calendar.

The lack of a year-round high school has often led to parents' pulling younger children out of year-round schools.

Parents have been reluctant to have children at different schools on different calendars.

School officials have said a year-round high school wasn't feasible because it would be too hard to offer all the necessary courses to students on different schedules.

But with heavy crowding in some areas where no new schools will open for several years, they now say a year-round high school could work. Under one scenario, students would be split into three groups, with two in class at any time.

The board will resume discussion of growth issues and the health of the district as the two-day retreat continues today.



* Students in
Wake County's year-round schools attend the same number of class days as their peers in traditional-calendar schools.

The difference is that the long summer break in traditional schools is eliminated in year-round calendars; instead, breaks are interspersed throughout the year.

* Year-round students follow a cycle of nine weeks of classes, followed by breaks of three weeks.

Students can have as little as two weeks off between the end of one year and the start of the next.

* Students are divided into four tracks, with three in class and one off at any time.

This rotation allows a school to handle up to 33 percent more students than traditional schools, although in practice the gain is usually about 20 percent.

* Fast-growing school districts often use the strategy to deal with crowding.

* To look at traditional and multitrack year-round calendars in Wake, go to 2004-05/.

* More information about year-round schools can be found at the Web site of the National Association for Year-Round Education at

Broward students may get away with 'offensive' attire, School Board says
By Chris Kahn, Sun-Sentinel Education Writer,

Political views -- no matter how poorly expressed -- are alive once again for students in
Broward County's public schools.

On Tuesday, the School Board changed part of its dress code that penalized a
Nova High School senior last year for wearing a T-shirt that called President Bush an "International Terrorist."

While schools can prohibit clothing that's "suggestive, revealing and indecent," they no longer will limit clothing that's considered "offensive."

School children have a constitutional right to wear T-shirts with political statements, even though they "might not be appropriate in your home or my home," School Board Attorney Ed Marko said.

The American Civil Liberties Union had criticized Broward's rules and threatened to sue after Nova administrators told 18-year-old Justin Cambest in October to turn his anti-Bush shirt inside out or face suspension.

ACLU lawyers pointed out that the U.S. Supreme Court has already ruled against similar standards and said the district should take out references to "offensive" language from its code of student conduct. And Cambest, they said, shouldn't be disciplined.

The Board agreed, tentatively changing its rules in February.

"I'm happy they were so cooperative," Cambest said in a telephone interview. He said he's already worn the black-and-red shirt to school since the board's first decision "and I'm sure I'm going to wear it again before the end of the year."

Superintendent Frank Till said the change doesn't mean that students can display whatever slogans they want. Administrators still will watch for any clothing that threatens other students or has the potential to cause a major problem. And no matter what messages are written on it, clothing that's too revealing will stay on the prohibited list.

"Appropriate means different things in different places," Till said during the meeting. "A T-shirt that a parent will allow their child to wear to the beach ... might not be appropriate to have at school."

Board Chairwoman Stephanie Kraft added that she was unhappy the board's attorneys didn't tell members last year when a federal court case put the constitutionality of their dress code in doubt.

"Don't we have a way of monitoring the courts so something like this doesn't come up?" Kraft said.

In addition to changing the rules regarding "offensive" clothing, the board also agreed to allow thonged sandals, but they prohibited wallet chains out of worries they could be dangerous.

The board also added enhanced penalties for students who use camera phones to take pornographic or obscene pictures. And teachers no longer will reduce a student's grade by 2.2 percent for unexcused absences. District staff said the practice was not effective in stopping kids from skipping school.

In other action, the board agreed to spend an additional $7 million to build a middle school in
Miramar after plans had floundered for several months. Jose Murguido, a vice president with the architecture firm that's developing the plans, said construction should begin on Middle School "OO" in three months.

The school will have room for 1,700 students and is expected to be complete 18 months after construction begins.

Texas school board adds Bible class
AP, 4/27/05

ODESSA, Texas -- The school board in this West Texas town voted unanimously to add a Bible class to its high school curriculum.
Hundreds of people, most of them supporters of the proposal, packed the board meeting Tuesday night. More than 6,000
Odessa residents had signed a petition supporting the class.

Some residents, however, said the school board acted too quickly. Others said they feared a national constitutional fight.

Barring any hurdles, the class should be added to the curriculum in fall 2006 and taught as a history or literature course. The school board still must develop a curriculum, which board member Floy Hinson said should be open for public review.

The board had heard a presentation in March from Mike Johnson, a representative of the Greensboro, N.C.-based National Council on Bible Curriculum in Public Schools, who said that coursework designed by that organization is not about proselytizing or preaching.

But People for the
American Way and the American Civil Liberties Union have criticized the council, saying its materials promote religion.

Johnson said students in the elective class would learn such things as the geography of the
Middle East and the influence of the Bible on history and culture.

"How can students understand Leonardo da Vinci's 'Last Supper' or Handel's 'Messiah' if they don't understand the reference from which they came?" Johnson said. The group's Web site says its curriculum has received backing in 292 school districts in 35 states.

Frankenmuth, Mich., a similar proposal led to a yearlong controversy before the school board voted in January not to offer such a course.

'Soccer Mom' Education Chief Plays Hardball
New York Times, 4/28/05

WASHINGTON - Margaret Spellings once described herself to a Texas reporter as "an earth-mother type of Republican." As the first woman with school-age children to serve as secretary of education, she was asked recently to explain herself.

"I would just say that I nursed my kids for a long time; I made my own baby food," Ms. Spellings told reporters at a press breakfast. "I mean I used cloth diapers, not Pampers."

That was long ago, when she was an education lobbyist in
Austin. But since taking office in January, the onetime Austin earth mother, who greets visitors to her office with a "Come on in, y'all" and often displays wit and charm, has also shown her willingness to engage in bare-knuckle politics, fighting to tamp down a growing rebellion against President Bush's No Child Left Behind law.

Facing a challenge to the law from
Connecticut, she accused educators there of being "un-American." Seeking to beat back a Utah bill that protests the federal law, Ms. Spellings cold-shouldered the Utah superintendent of schools for months and threatened to slash federal money for Utah.

"Margaret Spellings terrifies me," said a
Washington lobbyist who has known Ms. Spellings since she joined the Bush White House in 2001.

The secretary said in a recent interview that she was mystified by that comment, but assumed that it had come from an employee at her department. "I don't think I'm terrifying," Ms. Spellings said. "I'm a 47-year-old soccer mom."

Since taking office, she has made clear that she sees the federal law as the nation's best bet for closing the achievement gap between minority and white students and that her mission is to help states that are raising student scores and following the law's principles, which include an expansion of standardized testing, to carry it out. Those states "will be gratified," she said recently.

"Others looking for loopholes," she said, "who ignore the intent of the law and have minimal results to show for their millions of dollars in federal funds will think otherwise and be disappointed."

Some experts said that she faces a tough road. Most ambitious legislation requires revision, and many educators have concluded that this law needs a tuneup, too. But the White House is determined to avoid any legislative reconsideration until the scheduled reauthorization of the law in 2007. That position is requiring states to live with what many view as unrealistic provisions, like one requiring that newly arrived immigrant students take annual tests in English, and it has fallen to Ms. Spellings to keep the lid on.

She has cultivated her reputation for playing hardball.

Reminiscing about her early lobbying career and her longtime friendship with Karl Rove, the presidential adviser, before she joined George W. Bush's campaign for governor in 1994, she described how
Texas teachers' groups had nicknamed her the "princess of darkness." Playing with that renown, she acquired a black cape with "princess of darkness" monogrammed on the back, she said.

"I still have my princess of darkness cape," Ms. Spellings said in the interview, in February.

At the press breakfast in April, she swept in guzzling a large Starbucks coffee and fielded questions in a refreshingly unassuming manner. She was asked how she would help her 17-year-old daughter select a college.

"It's a confusing process," she answered. "I'm the doggone secretary of education, and I'm fumbling around at Barnes & Noble trying to find the book to figure it out."

She was a stream of Texas truisms, punching home a point about how
America needed to modernize its schools to meet world competition by blurting, "If all you ever do is all you've ever done, then all you'll ever get is all you've ever got!"

"She's fun and strategic and very savvy," said Sandy Kress, an
Austin lawyer who worked with her to draft No Child Left Behind in 2000. "And just loaded with common sense."

Terry Bergeson, the
Washington state superintendent, said she admired Ms. Spellings's businesslike attitude in recent meetings at the department. "She's blunt," Dr. Bergeson said. "She doesn't want wandering conversations. She wants to get down to work."

Ms. Spellings grew up in and attended college in
Houston. Her work as a lobbyist for the Texas Association of School Boards impressed Mr. Rove, who arranged for her to brief Mr. Bush on education issues. After his 1994 election as governor, Mr. Bush brought her on to coordinate his education initiatives.

In 1997, she and her first husband divorced. She remarried in 2001 to Robert Spellings, a lawyer, and lives in
Virginia, where one daughter, Mary, 17, attends a parochial high school and another, Grace, 12, is in a public school.

Her experience as a single mother sets her apart from other secretaries of education. Another characteristic that stands out is her irreverent wit. After President Bush chose her as his domestic policy adviser in 2001, a reporter asked her religion.

"Phonics," she replied. (She is an Episcopalian, she said last week.)

After Mr. Bush signed No Child Left Behind in January 2002, Ms. Spellings wielded considerable power in putting it into effect, and after his re-election, Mr. Bush announced that Ms. Spellings would replace Secretary Rod Paige.

At the breakfast, Ms. Spellings called the Bush White House a "close-knit family" and likened her move to the Department of Education to a young adult's departure from home. "I moved away from my parents and now I've got my own house," Ms. Spellings said.

She took over a department mired in conflicts with many states. Connecticut was disputing the law's testing requirements, Texas the rules on disabled students, North Dakota its teacher certification procedures, Utah what the authorities there consider its usurpation of local educational control, and California its system for labeling failing schools.

In a speech to educators on April 7, Ms. Spellings outlined a formula for resolving the federal-state conflict. States that have sound educational policies, demonstrate that achievement is rising, and follow the "basic principles of the law," she said, would be permitted flexibility to adapt the law to local conditions.

The speech drew warm applause, but some educators have since raised questions about how Ms. Spellings intends to identify the worthy states.

Chester Finn, a conservative scholar at the Hoover Institution, the research organization, wrote that Ms. Spellings's state-by-state approach "invites politics."

In her first weeks, her treatment of states was already "strikingly uneven," Dr. Finn wrote. "The department has been tough with
Connecticut and, of all places, Texas. But it's been lax with North Dakota, alternated between stern and accommodating with Utah, and compromised with California," he said.

Jo Lynne DeMary,
Virginia's education commissioner, said she had been eager to hear Ms. Spellings because "We've got a backlash, almost a tsunami, on N.C.L.B."

But after the speech, she said, "I still don't understand what states need to do to get flexibility - and I'm not alone."

Still, Dr. DeMary said she was charmed when Ms. Spellings sent her a note of thanks after a recent visit to a high school in

Ms. Spellings was less cordial with
Connecticut's education commissioner, Betty Sternberg. The secretary long ignored requests for a meeting to discuss the law's annual testing requirements, Dr. Sternberg said. Then an article by Ms. Spellings in The Hartford Courant compared Connecticut educators to little children who did not like to be tested. She followed up in a television interview by lashing her adversaries there as "un-American."

"Corporate litigation can get nasty, but I'm not usually defending myself against a personal attack as in this case," said Allan Taylor, a lawyer who is the chairman of the Connecticut Board of Education.

Patti Harrington, the
Utah superintendent, also said she got no response to requests to meet with Ms. Spellings to discuss Utah's criticisms of the law. Instead, Ms. Spellings sought an accommodation with Utah's governor, a Republican. The day before the Utah Legislature passed a bill last week protesting the federal law, Ms. Spellings sent a letter warning that the measure could cause the state to forfeit $76 million in federal money.

"Its message was, 'You dare move and we'll clobber you,' " Dr. Harrington said.

Big education changes coming
Revised law will affect special-needs students
Louie Villalobos, The
Arizona Republic, 4/28/05

Revisions to a federal law will bring sweeping changes to special-education programs across the country beginning in July.

Some parents and teachers are concerned that the change will allow special-education students to be expelled for disciplinary problems, fail classes because their educational needs won't be met, and leave them unprepared for life after graduation.

The law, a reauthorization of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Improvement Act, specifically will affect the way parents monitor the progress of their child, how schools handle discipline, how students are instructed, how special-needs children in private schools receive services and how state education officials oversee it all. advertisement 
The scope of the rules is so far-reaching that the Arizona Department of Education has scheduled a statewide teleconference in May with special-education directors across the state and is working to hold informational sessions for the community.
Arizona has more than 118,000 special-education students.

Although the provisions become law July 1, states will have to wait several months before the federal government hands down regulations implementing them.

"We're running as fast as we can," said Joanne Phillips, who oversees the exceptional-student services program for the State Department of Education.

The 30-year-old disabilities act was reauthorized by President Bush in December. Because all states accept federal disabilities money, they must adhere to regulations when using those funds.
Arizona received $152 million in IDEA grants this year. Nationally, the federal government handed out more than $10.5 billion for special education this school year.

The biggest adjustment for parents of a special-education student is in the development of the child's Individual Education Plan, the document schools and parents create to lay out the educational goals for the student.

In an effort to reduce paperwork, the new provisions will no longer require IEPs to include short-term goals, except for students with severe cognitive disabilities. That means parents won't have a tangible way to measure their child's progress for the year, said Beth Smith, whose 17-year-old son has cerebral palsy.

Parents generally look for the short-terms goals as a way to make sure their child is on track to meet bigger goals for the year. For Smith, that means making sure Michael meets his goal of writing an essay with three supportive arguments if he is to meet his year-end goal of passing English III.

"I can look at the IEP and see if he is where he needs to be," she said.

Phillips said that while districts and parents can choose to continue including short-terms goals in the IEP if they find them helpful, the main goal should be to make sure the plan is aligned with state standards. Paula Banahan, whose daughter has Down syndrome, said parents will demand a way to keep up with their child's progress, even if it's through quarterly updates from teachers.

"How do we get there?" asked Banahan, whose daughter, Julia, is a freshman at
Shadow Mountain High School. "Where is our road map?"

How schools and parents work to implement the IEP without the short-term goals will determine if it was worth cutting down the paperwork, Phillips and the parents said.

Another provision likely to be of concern to parents is stricter disciplinary guidelines for special-education students. Previous versions of the disabilities law made it easier for parents to attribute a child's disruptive behavior to the disability. Now it will easier for schools to show a disconnect between the actions of special-needs students and the disability, said Jerri Katzerman, managing attorney for the Arizona Center for Disability Law.

The burden of proof may fall on parents during disciplinary hearings, where schools are generally quicker than parents to label the behavior as separate from the disability, she said.

It's the type of change that Katzerman said parents need to know about when it comes time to question a school's decision. Her organization helps parents with school-related disputes.

"This is a significant reversal of current law," she said. "It will be much easier for an administrator to get rid of a perceived problem."

Banahan said parents will want school employees to be better educated on how each disability affects student behavior, especially if the changes make it easier for students to be removed from "regular" classrooms. Her daughter, for example, tells teachers she is too busy to do homework when she doesn't understand how to do it.

One of the most surprising changes has to do with when schools help special-education students transition into adulthood. Schools will now be asked to begin preparing students for life after school at age 16, two years later than current requirements.

Phillips said that provision was so unexpected that many in the special-education community double-checked to make sure it wasn't a typographical error. Her concern is that special-education students, who need the most help with the transition, will lose two years of services.

"It distresses me," said Phillips, who reminded parents that they can still request transition services begin at 14.

Parents need to plan for life after school as soon as possible to account for everything that child will need, Smith said. Questions about college scholarships, jobs or life services available to special-needs children don't wait until the student is 16, she said.

"I starting asking when Michael was in the 10th grade," she said. "We need to start working on this stuff."

The biggest impact of the provisions will be felt in the budgets of school districts. Special-education teachers will be required to be highly qualified under the law's new provisions. It's a requirement meant to align special education with the federal No Child Left Behind law that already mandates that "regular" classroom teachers be highly qualified.

A more plausible solution, Phillips said, would be to use two teachers in special-education classrooms. A biology teacher, for example, could be asked to spend a period in a special-education teacher's room.

School districts also could be heavily affected by how the law will change special-need services in private schools. Current rules ask the district in which the parent resides to provide services for the child who attends a private school, regardless of where the private school is located.

The change would require the district to pay for the services offered to all special-needs children in private schools within its boundaries. It's still unclear how the funding will work.

White supremacist running for
Montana school board
HELENA, Montana -- First came the leaflets. Left on front porches around the college town of Bozeman last summer, they called for a white homeland and espoused a need to protect the white race.

Then, residents learned a month ago that a member of the group that distributed the leaflets had gathered enough signatures to run as a candidate in next Tuesday's school board election.

In the city of about 57,000, known for its mix of ranchers, artists and ski bums, many are appalled by Kevin McGuire's candidacy.

Brightly colored posters promoting tolerance have sprung up. Angry letters poured in to the local paper, some from people who felt duped into signing his petition.

At a candidate forum this week, the clean-cut 23-year-old McGuire was peppered with criticism and questioned at length about his beliefs and his membership in the National Alliance, a
West Virginia white separatist group.

Few believe the
California native has any chance of winning a seat on the seven-member board, but they aren't taking any chances. Like people in other Montana cities where racist or separatist groups have appeared in recent years, residents want Bozeman, the home of Montana State University, to be seen as a place that embraces diversity.

"All people are welcome here," said Stacey Haugland of the Gallatin Valley Human Rights Task Force. "We as members of this community want to make it really, really clear that our values are not the values of the National Alliance."

McGuire, who calls himself a "European American activist" and rejects the label of white supremacist, says he believes he has more support in the community than many think. And he says he is committed to reforming
Bozeman schools.

He says the schools promote homosexuality, strip parents of control over their children, ignore white students and promote other cultures at the expense of figures like George Washington and other founding fathers.

"White children are often installed with guilt and a feeling of being ashamed because of the way that whites have dealt with minorities in the past, such as black slavery and the killing of Indians," McGuire said in a telephone interview. "Past discrimination should not result in present-day reverse discrimination against white kids."

McGuire never mentioned his beliefs or his membership in the National Alliance when he asked people to sign his petition this spring. More than three dozen voters supported him, and many were shocked and embarrassed when they learned the truth.

"I looked you in the eye and asked benign questions and you returned with satisfying answers," Benjamin Bennett wrote in a letter to the Bozeman Daily Chronicle. "I signed your petition thinking 'It's impressive to see a youthful adult having aspirations of serving on our local school board.' But boy, was I a sucker."

Others called him dangerous and unqualified and denounced his group for distributing the racist literature.

"It's been a distraction to the community and disturbed the community that he was even able to get on the ballot," said Martha Collins, a school board candidate.

Human rights advocates say McGuire is running only to promote National Alliance beliefs and attract new members.

"What he wants here is to stir up the pot and get some visibility," said Ken Toole, director of the Montana Human Rights Network. "The political arena presents a chance for him to get out and present his views as he wants."

Nationally, the National Alliance is "really on the ropes" since the 2002 death of leader William Pierce, said Mark Potok of the Southern Poverty Law Center, which tracks hate groups. Pierce's novel "The Turner Diaries" is believed to have inspired
Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh.

Illinois State Board of Education
100 North First Street
Springfield, IL 62777