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State of Illinois - Governor Blagojevich 

News Clips

News Clips – May 6 - 13, 2005


Lawmakers face fundamental questions as they try to balance budget / Belleville News-Democrat
School's lesson plan: No more homework / Chicago Tribune
City and schools promoting Moline / Quad Cities Online
District 105 may sue city for taxes / Belleville News-Democrat
Path to certification varies for those returning to college / LaSalle NewsTribune
Thornton superintendent files objection / Daily Southtown
No Child Left Behind rules to be eased for special-ed students / Chicago Sun-Times
Teacher resigns to protest testing policies / Champaign News-Gazette
Tax shift proposal advances in Statehouse / Streator Times-Press
A 'myth' that special ed drags scores down? /
Mt. Vernon Register-News
Committee approves school funding plan / State Journal-Register
School district looks into hacking / Chicago Sun-Times
The taxman giveth ... / Chicago Tribune

Houston schools adjusts to NCLB / Telegraph (
Macon, GA)
Some See School Buses as Vehicles for Advertising /
Los Angeles Times
Connecting With the American Dialect /
Washington Post
State looking for more NCLB flexibility / Billings Gazette (MT)
Seat belts on buses not clear-cut solution / Kansas City Star
Vallas denies rumors he's leaving / Philadelphia Inquirer
Connecticut Lawmakers Debate Strict Bill on School Nutrition / New York Times
School Superintendent Searches Evolving / State Journal-Register
Spellings Team Tackles 'No Child' Problems /
Washington Post
Teacher finds 9mm handgun in second grader's backpack / Philadelphia Inquirer
Single-sex academies planned / Detroit Free Press
Trash heaps pile up in school cafeterias / State Journal-Register
Cheaters use new array of gadgets to get that ‘A' / Kansas City Star



Lawmakers face fundamental questions as they try to balance budget
CHRISTOPHER WILLS, Associated Press, 5/7/05

SPRINGFIELD, Ill. - Illinois officials will have to do a lot more than shave some spending here and nudge up revenue there if they want to balance the state budget.

Closing a gap of at least $1.2 billion involves fundamental questions about the best course for
Illinois, especially when most of the obvious budget tricks have been used already over three years of fighting deficits.

Should the state plunge deeper into legalized gambling to generate cash?

Would it be unconstitutional to fund
Illinois schools with money designated for other purposes?

Is it fair to lower retirement benefits for future state employees, and will it save any money today?

Has the time finally come for a major tax increase?

Lawmakers are scheduled to end their spring session in just three weeks, but little can be done to put together a new budget until the governor and the four legislative leaders who negotiate the details of the state's spending plan answer those questions.

"It's time to really get focused," says Gov. Rod Blagojevich. "It's time now for people to start saying where they are."

Ultimately, the impact of their decisions may be felt by students in classrooms and guards overseeing prisons, people driving
Illinois roads and smokers buying cigarettes.

Blagojevich has made his position clear.

The Democratic governor has proposed a $53 billion spending plan. He wants to expand gambling at existing casinos to raise money but promises to veto any legislation that would allow more casinos. Despite adverse court rulings, he wants to dip into funds supported by special fees. He says the two plans would generate an extra $440 million for schools.

Blagojevich also wants to overhaul pensions, arguing the state could claim $800 million in savings immediately. And he emphatically rejects increasing income tax or sales tax.

Sorting out where the legislative leaders stand is more difficult.

Senate President Emil Jones, D-Chicago, Blagojevich's strongest ally last year, supports allowing new casinos to open in the Chicago area and raising income taxes to make schools less reliant on local property taxes. He opposes Blagojevich's proposal to raise tobacco taxes to help pay for construction.

It's not clear whether those positions are so firm that Jones will try to block any budget that doesn't meet his conditions. But Jones seems increasingly frustrated with patched-together budgets that don't provide the level of government service he considers vital.

"Most people run for office, make the pledge 'I'm going to give you all these good services and I'm not going to raise your taxes.' Whenever you see a politician telling you that, they are telling you a lie," Jones said last week. "It is impossible to do that."

House Speaker Michael Madigan, D-Chicago, sounds willing to consider just about anything. He doesn't advocate gambling expansion but doesn't reject it either. He says the state could save money now by cutting future retirement benefits, but he hasn't named an amount he supports.

Madigan is clear about two positions: Major tax increases are not worth talking about while Blagojevich opposes them, and dipping into special funds is a bad idea because of legal questions.

The Republican leaders are even more cagey.

They give a "yes" or "no" to some proposals but generally argue it's up to Blagojevich and the Democrats, who control both houses of the Legislature, to come up with detailed proposals.

"File them and we can vote up or down," said House Minority Leader Tom Cross, R-Oswego. "We've seen ideas and concepts, but we want some meat."

Cross said the state should also try to cut costs by using HMO-style techniques to control Medicaid expenses.

Last year, Blagojevich and Jones worked closely together, pushing to spend more on schools and health care for the poor. Madigan joined forces with the two Republican leaders to support more modest increases in those areas and to limit state borrowing.

The result was a stalemate that delayed the budget for nearly two months and required approval of an interim spending bill to keep government operating.

In the end, the budget was significantly smaller than Blagojevich and Jones wanted, there was no new money for construction projects, and the governor was required to spell out in writing how he would use some of the funds under his control.

Both sides of the budget debate claimed victory in producing a budget that closed a $2.3 billion hole while still providing more money for key services.

Madigan says he is once again working with Republican leaders to insist on a responsible budget. Jones and Blagojevich, however, show signs of divisions over the governor's opposition to a tax "swap" for school funding.

With so many big decisions still to be made - followed by the inevitable haggling and tweaking the numbers - many lawmakers fear another stalemate lies ahead, and they don't like it.

"It's not going to get any better just by staying down here for another two months like we did last year," said Rep. Gary Hannig of Litchfield, a key budget negotiator for House Democrats. "In fact, it will probably get worse."

School's lesson plan: No more homework
Students never did it; now it's no problem
By Jo Napolitano, Tribune staff reporter,

Junior high students at the
Marya Yates School in Matteson simply had too many crushes to attend to, Web sites to surf, and television shows to watch in order to sit diligently at their kitchen tables and crank out homework.

School administrators saw they were fighting a losing battle outside their walls. But they were confident most students were absorbing the lessons in class. So what did they do? They virtually eliminated homework.

Homework used to account for about 30 percent of students' grades. The shift in policy began after Principal Lucille Adams Johnson consulted with teachers a few years ago about why so many students were earning C's when tests and quizzes showed they had command of the material.

The answer was simple: homework. Teachers were assigning it. Kids weren't doing it. Teachers found themselves entering dozens of zeros where better grades should have been, Adams Johnson said.

"How are they supposed to handle homework and go through puberty at the same time?" she joked.

As the policy has evolved, homework at Marya Yates now accounts for roughly 10 percent of grades, with some teachers making it as small a factor as possible.

Adams Johnson's school is about 94 percent African-American and serves a middle-class community in southern
Cook County. She says the homework policy is working and points to test scores that surpass state averages. Since the change, the school's rate of meeting standards on the state test has climbed to 69 percent from 59 percent in five years. The state average in 2003-04 was 66 percent.

But education experts are divided on the wisdom of adapting to the desires of junior high students, with some praising that flexibility and others noting that being able to study on one's own becomes crucial in high school and beyond.

Harris Cooper, director of
Duke University's Program in Education, has studied homework for 20 years. Cooper said the amount of homework assigned has remained relatively steady over the last 50 years, and that while it is not unheard of for poor urban schools to abandon it, that is much rarer in a middle-class setting.

Benefits of homework

Cooper said there is only a modest correlation between homework completion and academic success for middle school children, but the connection between the two becomes much stronger in high school.

Homework teaches children study and time-management skills, he said.

"All kids should be doing homework," he said.

The State of
Illinois leaves it up to school districts to set their own homework policy.

Chicago's public school system mandates that teachers assign homework, and it provides suggestions for how much time students should spend on assignments each night based on their grade level, a spokeswoman said.

While some schools in recent years have come under fire for giving students too much homework, Marya Yates' decision to back off wasn't the result of overloading the kids as much as it was that children simply weren't handing in assignments.

Melinda Anderson, spokeswoman for the National Education Association, said schools should be allowed to tailor their policies depending upon their students' needs, but they shouldn't give up on homework as a valuable tool.

"In dealing with the issue of homework compliance, the answer should not be to bend to the whims of youngsters or adolescents," she said. "An alternative would be to establish a reasonable policy--10 minutes times the grade level seems to be a standard measure--and talk to parents."

Students can't flout homework without accomplices, she said.

But even when Marya Yates students were handing in their out-of-school assignments, the homework grades were often horrible--too many F's, Adams Johnson said.

Homework, she thought, isn't always the best way to determine if a student comprehends a subject. So Adams Johnson sought to rethink the way the school operated, allowing teachers to reduce take-home assignments drastically and encouraging students to do that work during the school day.

Caroline Lacey, a Marya Yates reading language arts teacher, sets aside 40 to 70 minutes of class time each week for students to read by themselves, a task that might otherwise be assigned as homework. And she's pretty flexible about where and how they do it. Passersby might find her students sitting comfortably on the floor or near her desk.

Lee Dolan, a science teacher, hasn't had a lunch period to herself in years, instead devoting that time to students looking to complete assignments.

"You do what you have to do in the day to get it done," she said.

Dolan used to assign a great deal of homework, but kids "weren't getting anywhere with it," she said. It became punitive, and when the students wouldn't hand it in, Dolan would get frustrated.

"At least when they're with you, you can make them focus more," she said.

District 159 Supt. Eric King endorses the school trying alternatives in the pursuit of success. King recalled that in an effort to motivate a struggling student, he agreed to play one-on-one basketball with the boy if he improved his behavior at the school.

"When we look at how we try to meet the needs of students, it's not always a cookie-cutter approach," he said. "Homework allows you to reinforce what you've learned, but there are other ways to reach a student."

Preparing for the future

Regardless of what works inside the school, Marya Yates does not exist in a vacuum, said G. Alfred Hess Jr., professor of education and social policy at
Northwestern University. The school has an obligation to make sure its graduates are ready to compete later on with students from other schools--kids who grew up with homework.

"It's not just what [the school] is doing for itself, but how it is preparing kids for high school and the kids they will be competing against," Hess said. "Are they equivalently prepared?"

Adams Johnson said that from every indication she has, her students are more than adequately prepared for high school. Because they are used to achieving high grades, they will do whatever it takes to succeed, including homework, she said.

"They don't have a problem with that," she said, adding some students will find they already have been exposed to high school material before they graduate from Marya Yates.

Students are happy

Not surprisingly, a small sampling of students on a recent afternoon found no one opposed to the school's approach.

Sydney Holt, 14, said she likes having her teacher present when she has a question. Otherwise, she said, the assignments would "be very confusing."

"I'd forget everything," Holt said, speaking mainly of math.

The students credit the accessibility of teachers with their success. And they note that the school finds other ways to bring discipline to their lives. With a zero-tolerance policy, there are no do-rags, no baggy pants and minimal fighting among the 500 students in the well-appointed school, administrators said.

"She puts down the law, and we have to follow the rules," Kaitlyn Drahos, a 12-year-old 7th grader, said of Adams Johnson.

The kid-friendly approaches extend beyond homework. Administrators say they try to reduce opportunities for students to mess up. For example, the school requires them to keep their notebooks in class rather than take them home where they could be forgotten.

And instead of sending kids to the principal's office every time they come to class without a pencil--which used to be a regular occurrence and cause kids to miss whole class periods of instruction--teachers try to keep some supplies on hand, allowing them to pick their battles.

Becky Watts, a spokeswoman for the Illinois State Board of Education, said the school's approach seemed effective, based on a review of Marya Yates' standardized test scores.

"Whatever they're doing seems to be working," she said.

City and schools promoting Moline
By Dawn Neuses, Quad Cities Online, 5/8/05

MOLINE -- A partnership formed to unite the city and the school district under the same images also could bring more people to the area.

The two are creating a joint brand, logo and tag line to gradually replace those each uses now.

"We are trying to come to the same successful end to the means and draw people to the area," said Moline Ald. Mike Crotty, 6th Ward, who has been on the committee since it was formed three years ago.

The city and district had a semi-adversarial relationship in the past, he added. Working together for the past three years as the city/school task force has helped to heal that distance.

"We also know that we are losing a fair amount of business and population to the
Iowa side of the river, and we wanted to find an anchor to draw people to Moline. If we promote the schools along with the city, we thought we'd have a better chance instead of each of us doing our own thing," Ald. Crotty said.

The Illinois Quad City Chamber of Commerce is acting as a catalyst in the process.

Rick Baker, president and CEO of the chamber, said when the two began meeting, the whole effort was to improve communication.

"Common concerns and common goals evolved into other avenues. Most of their time was spent on how the community could better present itself. Together they began to work on how they could work together to promote the community," he said.

"Their resources are limited, so if they are each going to expend some resources to attract people to the community, they may as well go in the same direction," he added.

School board president Karen Buchanan said the first year was spent getting to know how the city and district functioned with issues such as funding. The past two years they have focused on joint marketing. The group has conducted surveys and held focus groups to help with the process.

"We would like to develop a brand so people know it is
Moline. People are going to move to a city, and factories are going to come to a place with good schools, and the city is going to benefit from good schools," she said.

Recently, a proposed logo and tag line, "
Moline, a good place to grow," was presented to the city council. Aldermen did not vote to move forward with the proposed items, and instead tabled action. They'd like to see some alternatives.

The city and district are working with Hanson Watson Howe Inc., an advertising and marketing firm in
Moline, to come up a brand, logo and tag line.

"It is so important to the city and the school district," said Ms. Buchanan.

"It may not seem like a lot, but we have grown a lot in communication and working together. We are uniting the different entities together. It is a big step, and we are seeing its fruition."

District 105 may sue city for taxes
Doesn't want schools to lose the revenue
Patrick J. Powers,
Belleville News-Democrat, 5/10/05
FAIRVIEW HEIGHTS - Pontiac-William Holliday School District 105 would sue City Hall if it continues to lure development at the expense of the school district's potential revenue, the school district said on Monday.
"Just make us whole and we're happy," Superintendent Darrell Sy said.
The school's upset about proposed tax incentives for the Shoppes at
St. Clair Square that would grant the developer $5 million for infrastructure costs. The money would come from property tax that normally goes to the local taxing districts, such as Pontiac-William Holliday School District 105.
It's this money -- estimated at about $78,000 a year for 23 years -- the school district is trying to keep. "Such a diversion of tax dollars will have a severe financial impact on the school district which is already in a distressed financial condition," the school district wrote to city leaders.
If the proposed tax increment financing district goes through and the city fails to reimburse this amount, the city should prepare itself to be sued, Sy said. It's an option the city hopes the school district doesn't have to put into action.
"I would like to work something out with them," Mayor Gail Mitchell said. "I don't want to see anybody get hammered, but right now the schools are getting nothing."
Mitchell suggested he would like to see the school still collect a percentage of the property tax it normally would receive from the new development. That percentage has yet to be set. However, he doubted the project could go forward if the school district demanded 100 percent.
City leaders have yet to approve the tax incentives for the Shoppes at
St. Clair Square planned at the northeast corner of Illinois 159 and Lincoln Highway. However, they have already approved a development plan for the project.
The city's finance committee is expected to discuss the school district's concerns on Wednesday.
CBL and Associates Properties Inc. -- the Chattanooga, Tenn.-based company that owns
St. Clair Square and would develop the Shoppes at St. Clair Square -- estimated the assessed valuation of the completed project at $3.2 million.
The proposed shopping center would pay $240,627 a year in property taxes with this assessed valuation and no tax increment financing district.
Pontiac-William Holliday School District 105, under current tax rates, would collect $78,358 a year. Belleville High School District 201 would see $62,489. And the local fire department would collect another $9,683.
Those three taxing districts received $14,753, $11,765 and $1,825 in property taxes, respectively, from the same parcel during the 2003 tax year. The taxes were generated from the Associated Bank portion. Holy Trinity Catholic Church enjoys tax-exempt status.
Plans for the Shoppes at St. Clair Square include a Barnes & Noble bookstore, Jared jeweler and five retailers: Ann Taylor Loft women's clothing; Chico's women's apparel; Coldwater Creek women's apparel and gifts; J. Jill women's apparel; and Talbots women's, children's and men's apparel.
A construction schedule has yet to be released.


Path to certification varies for those returning to college
John Thompson, LaSalle News Tribune, 5/9/05
When Nancy Loebach returned to college to get her teaching certificate in the fall of 2000, she said she felt like the mom to other students, which makes sense because Loebach was not only married and raising daughters Heidi and Becky, but also spent the last 15 years running her own photography studio in Oglesby.
During that time, she also worked as an accountant for John Deere and Mobil Chemical Co.
“In the back of my mind, I had always wanted to teach,” Loebach said. “When I was younger, I didn’t think I had the patience for it, but when I found myself helping my daughter with math, I thought maybe I would do it.”
Like many “nontraditional” students, Loebach found herself dealing with midterms and homework while also taking care of her family and running a business.
Juggling these responsibilities wasn’t a problem for her, though.
“I’m a mom,” she said, laughing. “When you’re a mom, you have to juggle things anyway.”
Because she already had a bachelor’s degree in accounting from
Augustana College, Loebach enrolled in Illinois State University’s second bachelor’s program leading to teacher certification.
The first semester she was able to take two classes at
Illinois Valley Community College, but after that she went full-time for three semesters at ISU, taking between 12 and 16 hours per semester.
Meanwhile, she worked as an accountant, ran her photography studio and was a full-time wife and mother.
“Until I got into a schedule, it was difficult,” Loebach said. “I didn’t sleep a lot, and I didn’t have a lot of spare time. But I didn’t want to miss what my kids were doing. If anything suffered, it was my housework.”
Currently, there are two ways for prospective teachers to qualify for teaching certification in
Illinois. The traditional path is to attend a four-year college or university with an education department that offers teacher education in the student’s desired field.
For example, Loebach, even with a bachelor’s in accounting, had to take general math courses as well as methods class, which teach teachers how to teach. Included in those classes were clinical observations of teachers in the classroom as well as a semester of student teaching.
Like Loebach, Brent Ziegler, who now teaches history and coaches basketball in the LaMoille school district, already had an associate’s degree in criminal justice and was working part-time as a police officer in Ladd and full-time at a car-parts factory when he decided to return to school to become a teacher.
“I was working two jobs and putting in a ton of hours, so I did a little soul searching,” Ziegler said. “I looked back at school, looked at role models, people I respected. Some of the names that popped up were former teachers. I started to think about what my favorite subject was, and it was history. I’ve always had an interest in working with young people and sports. I knew that as a teacher coaching was an option.”
Unlike Loebach, Ziegler had only been out of school for about three years when he decided to become a teacher. He had saved enough money from working two jobs and living at home with his parents, that he was able to move to Normal and attend ISU full-time, graduating in May 1999 with a degree in teaching secondary history.
Jill Urban, instructor of educational psychology and coordinator of the teacher education program at IVCC, said the college has initiated program’s that could help draw such nontraditional students as Loebach and Ziegler into the profession.
“Right now in
Illinois there is a shortage of teachers in math, science and special education,” Urban said. “The state has begun initiatives in these key areas by offering an associate of arts in teaching or AAT. Already IVCC offers an AAT in math and is looking at science and early childhood and special ed. This would make it easier to transfer the hours, including observation hours, to a four-year school for teacher certification.”
Urban said that IVCC also offers two different programs in the education department. One grants paraprofessional certification for what used to be known as “teacher’s aides,” while the other is a transfer program for those continuing on to a four-year university or college for teacher certification.
For fall, Urban said that IVCC will be introducing a new approach for working students called Friday Courses in which students go all day Friday on campus and the rest of the week do course work online.
The only other option for nontraditional students is what’s called the alternative route to teacher certification, which requires candidates to possess a bachelor’s degree and at least five years of work experience in a field directly related to the field in which they will be teaching.
Alternative certification programs began in
New Jersey in 1984, said Michael Lorber, the director of ISU’s alternative certification program, but by 2004 there were programs in 48 states plus the District of Columbia.
Although alternative certification programs are available at at ISU,
Eastern Illinois University and Western Illinois, among others, the programs are generally restricted to the curriculum areas of math and science, and in some places special education, which have been identified as high-need areas.
“The people who complete the program leave with virtually the same pedagogical skills as students who complete a traditional undergraduate teacher preparation program,” Lorber said, “but they have two additional strengths: five years of work experience and the maturity and sense of purpose that comes from being older. The work experience is useful because it enables the teacher to cite firsthand examples of ways the content being taught is used in the workplace. The maturity is useful because, in order to have had five years of work experience, the person must have demonstrated a reasonably strong work ethic.”
The alternative certification program at ISU has two parts: a series of intensive classes that meet for eight hours a day for eight consecutive Saturdays during the spring and summer followed by a year-long internship at a cooperating school district during which the certification candidate is given the very real responsiblity of teaching a class under the watchful eyes of a mentor teacher.
“The single greatest obstacle for Alt. Cert. programs in
Illinois is the lack of internships,” Lorber said. “With 57 schools preparing teachers, there are, in most content areas, more than enough graduates to meet current needs. In fact, in most content areas, Illinois is a teacher exporting state.”
Although there are parts of
IllinoisChicago and southern parts of the state — where teachers are needed, Lorber said that people who are interested in the alt. cert. program usually choose not to teach in those areas for various reasons.
The other problem is that many prospective “alt. cert.” candidates are married, have families and have put down roots in a particular place.
“Many find it difficult, or are simply unwilling, to move to another area, even if an internship is offered,” Lorber said.
The main obstacle for both Loebach and Ziegler, however, wasn’t getting certified; it was finding a job afterwards. For example, Ziegler said he worked as a substitute for two years until being hired to teach social studies at Allen Junior High at LaMoille in 2002.

Currently, he teaches four classes at the junior high while also teaching American history and geography at the high school.
Loebach took a job teaching math at St. Bede Academy after receiving her certification from ISU in 2002, but her certification was in elementary education with a middle school endorsement.
“The most difficult thing for me was getting the state to look at both of my degrees to see what I needed to take to teach high school,” she said.
After teaching full-time for one year, Loebach had to go to a part-time schedule for the 2003-2004 school year in order to take math classes that the state said she still needed in order to teach high school.
“Everything I took I now think was worthwhile, even though at the time I questioned it,” she said. “The elementary education and middle school classes I think make me a better high school teacher.” 


Thornton superintendent files objection
Petition alleges that conference realignment is de facto segregation
Jonathan Lipman, Daily Southtown, 5/11/05
Calling the realignment of a school athletic conference an attempt at illegal racial segregation, residents of Thornton Township High School District 205 and its superintendent have petitioned for a hearing before the Illinois State Board of Education.
The rare Section 22-19 petition was filed Tuesday at the state board's
Chicago office, board officials said. It's being sent to Springfield where officials will review it.
State law gives the state board jurisdiction over school discrimination complaints.
The petition will force the state board to decide whether the South-Inter Conference Association in effect reorganized the conference along racial lines. The state board must call a hearing within 20 to 30 days.
"This is a violation of the Illinois Civil Rights Act of 2003, which forbids local government entities ... from taking actions which have the effect of racial discrimination," attorney Matthew Piers said. "Regardless of what you may think about the motivations here, and those motivations are obviously in dispute, there's really no way around the fact that the effect ... is to create a racially segregated set of athletic conferences."
At almost 300 pages, the document also accuses SICA of not following its own procedures and ignoring the concerns of members when drawing up its controversial three-division plan.
District 205 Supt. J. Kamala Buckner and Thornton Fractional High School District 215 Supt. Robert Wilhite helped attorneys prepare the petition, which is filed on behalf of all students in the affected districts.
About 200 residents from District 205 have signed onto the petition. Piers said signatures from Thornton Fractional also are being collected.
Piers said the districts decided to file a petition before the state board instead of suing in hopes the process would be faster and less divisive. They still are considering a lawsuit if hearings before the state board stall.
Late last year, superintendents voted to reorganize the conference from five divisions to three. Buckner and Wilhite objected, saying the new SICA South conference would be made up almost entirely of minority students who live east of Interstate 57.
SICA South's students will be 79 percent minority, the petition states, compared with 21 percent and 37 percent in the other two divisions.
Since the Dec. 8 vote to approve the plan, schools in the predominately white West conference have announced plans to drop out of SICA. Schools in the North-Central division are expected to discuss their plans to leave at today's regular meeting of SICA superintendents.
Piers said those districts hypothetically could be blocked from leaving the conference if the state board or a judge decides the remaining districts would be left racially isolated.
"This is relatively uncharted territory in terms of the enforcement action," Piers said.
SICA president Roberta Berry, the superintendent of
Crete-Monee School District 201U, said reasons for the realignment were "above board."
"I've got 16 superintendents saying, 'We agree, and let's move forward,' "
Berry said. "I've got Kam Buckner in a minority of voices, with two (districts) saying, 'We don't like it.' Just because they don't agree, does that make it wrong? I guess it's up to the attorney general."
Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan's office has been monitoring the situation and will enforce any action the state board of education may decide is needed, spokeswoman Melissa Merz said.
The petition states that the procedures for deciding the realignment were not followed. SICA's board of principals was concerned the proposal was racially unequal, but their concerns were ignored, the petition says.
Berry said she knew of no complaints from principals or athletic directors, that procedures were not followed or that the divisions were racially unbalanced.
The petition also accuses
Berry personally of dragging her feet on a counter-proposal from Buckner.
Buckner wants all schools to play at least 25 percent of their games against teams in other divisions. The petition says
Berry has failed to call a meeting to discuss the issue despite telling the attorney general the issue was resolved.
Berry has avoided any efforts at dispute resolution; she's continued to insist there's nothing wrong," Piers said.
Today is the annual spring meeting,
Berry said, and Buckner's proposal will be discussed.
"(Buckner) asked that I call a meeting no later than April 29,"
Berry said. "But you know, I don't dance to Ms. Buckner's tune."


No Child Left Behind rules to be eased for special-ed students
Kate N. Grossman,
Chicago Sun-Times, 5/11/05
About 11,500 more special education students in
Illinois could be judged against less rigorous testing standards starting this year under a new policy outlined Tuesday by Education Secretary Margaret Spellings. This could make it easier for schools to hit the standards of the controversial federal No Child Left Behind law.
In 2004, 142
Illinois schools and 201 districts failed to meet NCLB standards solely because of special education test results.
Now, only 1 percent of students -- those with serious cognitive disabilities -- can take an alternative test. The new policy would allow an additional 2 percent of all students to take a modified test if they are disabled.
'Commonsense approach'
The new test would be geared to their abilities, not just their grade level.
"I think the 2 percent would be helpful for most school districts," said Supt. Bernard Jumbeck of Chicago Ridge District 127.5, which failed to meet NCLB standards last year because of special education scores. "For many of those youngsters, they are making gains, but they're not going to be able to make the same leaps as students in the regular classroom environment."
Spellings' new policy was a first step toward advancing what she called a "new, commonsense" approach toward the law.
"We've learned something in the three and one-half years we've implemented this law," Spellings said. "I believe this is a smarter, better way to educate our special education children."
The feds will supply $14 million for test development, training and research, but creating new tests could take a year or more.
But states that win federal approval can use the additional 2 percent rule now. Schools where special education students were the sole reason testing benchmarks were missed will use a federally devised formula to boost their 2004 scores.
Many school officials applauded the change, but others say it isn't enough.
Ottawa District 140, 80 miles southwest of
Chicago, sued the Department of Education this year, saying NCLB conflicts with a federal law that governs how children with disabilities are to be educated. Minor changes to NCLB won't erase that fundamental conflict, the Ottawa superintendent said.

Teacher resigns to protest testing policies
Anne Cook, Champaign News-Gazette, 5/10/05
CHAMPAIGN – Eighteen-year veteran Champaign Central High School mathematics teacher Kathleen Smith stunned board members by resigning as a protest, she said, against district and federal policies that force teachers to "teach to the test."
During Monday's school board meeting, Smith said she's resigning because she's at odds with current standards in the district and with methods imposed on teachers by George Bush's landmark No Child Left Behind legislation.
"Each year students come to me with different skills, different strengths and different weaknesses," Smith said. "It's always a learning process. They learn about me and I learn about them. Now I find myself constrained by a mentality that says all students will learn the same material at the same pace and prove it by taking the same multiple-choice test within a given time frame.
I do not believe a student's understanding of mathematical concepts can be assessed by a multiple-choice test, nor do I believe that such a test is fair for all learners," she said. "I'm resigning because I'm caught in a moral dilemma. "
Smith said many teachers in the district share her frustration and anger at the emphasis on test taking. She said she decided to resign from her
Champaign job the day after Bush was re-elected president.
"I can't teach to No Child Left Behind as the district implements it," Smith said.
She was the first nationally certified teacher in
Champaign and the first certified math teacher in the state.
"I'm speechless," said board President
Scott Anderson after her comments.
"The supply of Kathleen Smiths is limited," said teachers' union President Greg Novak. "We can't afford to lose any of them."


Tax shift proposal advances in Statehouse
Stephanie Sievers, Times-Press (Streator), 5/12/05
SPRINGFIELD — Efforts to reform education funding may be gaining traction in the Senate now that proponents have forged a bi-partisan compromise they say will mean more money for schools while providing $3 billion in property tax relief.
Sen. James Meeks, an independent from
Chicago, and Sen. Rick Winkel, R-Champaign, outlined an amendment Tuesday that would shift some of the funding burden from property tax to income tax.
For decades, the state has relied on property taxes to fund schools, but that is unfair compared to relying on income taxes, which are more aligned with a person’s actual ability to pay, Winkel said
Under the proposal, the individual income rate would increase from 3 percent to 5 percent. The corporate rate would increase from 4.8 percent to 8 percent. The changes would mean $5.8 billion in new revenue.
At the same time,
Illinois would give home and property owners a 30 percent break on the property taxes they now pay for education. Renters would get a small tax break as would the state’s poorest workers who would otherwise see their income tax bills rise.
With the additional funding, the state would be able to pump more money into public education, including at the college level, which has been hard hit in recent budget years.
The legislation would raise the state foundation level, or the minimum amount it pays per student — from $4,964 to $6,100. About $120 million in new funding would be earmarked for special education and $370 million would go to community colleges and state universities.
To protect the property tax relief, school districts would not be able to raise taxes unless they took the question to voters and got at least 60 percent in support. But some lawmakers expressed concern that it still would not protect property owners against rising assessments.
Sen. Miguel del Valle, D-Chicago, a co-sponsor who also heads up the Senate Education Committee said he hopes to bring the bill to a vote in that committee soon. While he preferred Sen. Meeks’ original bill, which also boosted sales taxes, del Valle said the compromise is a good step.
With Gov. Rod Blagojevich vowing to veto any sales or income tax increases that hit his desk, supporters say they must get a veto-proof majority to override any action he might take. Whether they can round up enough support remains to be seen.
Sen. Todd Sieben, R-Geneseo, a member of the special committee assigned to study funding reform options, said he's keeping an open mind on the compromise, but wants to hear what business groups and others have to say about it.
He does think some senators may be reluctant to jump aboard a tax increase they know the governor will ultimately veto, especially when there's no indication that Speaker Michael Madigan would bring it to a vote in the House.


A 'myth' that special ed drags scores down?
Gregory R. Norfleet,
Mt. Vernon Register-News, 5/11/05
INA — Is it a “myth” that special education pupils drag down average test scores?
Steve Holman, a biology instructor with
Rend Lake College who works with high schools to strengthen their curriculum, thinks it may be.
Holman was presenting an overview Tuesday to the RLC Board of Trustees about Science Teachers Excellence Partnership, which is “raising eyebrows in
Springfield” by improving math, science and technology scores with “sustainable results.”
At one point, board trustee David Edmison asked Holman his opinion of No Child Left Behind, from which the STEP program was designed.
Holman said that, as a grant administrator, he appreciated the $239,000 in funding; but as a teacher, he felt NCLB needs to be “jostled” because it combines special education pupils’ test scores with mainstream pupils.
However, from working in the STEP program, Holman has seen several schools’ test scores — which are also broken down by demographics that include special education, gender, race, income, etc. — and made this observation:
“Last year, there wasn’t one school (in
Southern Illinois) that showed special education brought them down,” he said. “So maybe it’s a myth.”
Dr. P.E. Cross, regional superintendent for Hamilton and
Jefferson county schools, said the statewide test scores he has seen disagree with Holman’s observation.
“The data at the state level indicates that at a lot of schools — like those on the Academic Warning and Academic Watch lists — the subgroups bring them down,” he said.
Cross acknowledged that “special ed” is quite broad and includes children with, say, speech or hearing problems, who can be quite intelligent.
“But I haven’t seen data that would support (Holman’s) statement,” he said.
NCLB gives schools until 2014 to get 100 percent of pupils meeting or exceeding state standards. Schools which fail to do so would lose federal funding.
Holman said the STEP program, a three-year grant which last year was funded at $287,000, helps teachers through workshops and a Kids Camp by teaching and demonstrating ways to identify weaknesses in curriculum.
Without STEP’s data analysis, “you can find a weakness like a needle in a haystack,” he said.
The STEP program was so popular last year that the college had a 75-teacher waiting list. This year, with a focus on mentoring, the program “filled up before we advertised it,” he said.


Committee approves school funding plan
Bill would increase income taxes, give property tax relief
By ADRIANA COLINDRES, State Journal-Register State Capitol Bureau,

Attempting to improve the state's school funding system, a Senate panel Thursday advanced a plan to raise income taxes while also offering property tax relief.

The individual income tax rate, presently 3 percent, would increase to 5 percent, and the corporate income tax rate would rise from 4.8 percent to 8 percent under the revised version of House Bill 755.

The higher rates would generate an estimated $5.8 billion in revenues, said Sen. James Meeks, an independent from
Chicago. Meeks developed the legislation with Sen. Rick Winkel, R-Urbana.

The income tax revenues would be used to replace 30 percent of each school district's property tax levy, triggering local property tax abatement for property owners. The bill proposes setting aside $3 billion for property tax relief.

The plan also would:

- Boost the state's per-pupil spending amount, known as the foundation level, from $4,964 to $6,100 annually.

- Create a "higher education operating assistance fund," which would receive $370 million a year. The money would be divided among universities and community colleges, based on enrollment.

- Double the Education Expense Credit that may be claimed by the parent or guardian of a student in kindergarten through 12th grade for education expenses exceeding $250. The new maximum credit would be $1,000.

- Add $200 million to fund the state's earned income tax credit program.

Greg Baise of the Illinois Manufacturers' Association and Todd Maisch of the Illinois State Chamber of Commerce spoke against the proposal at the committee hearing.

Baise said the proposed corporate income tax increase would make
Illinois' rate one of the highest among states with flat tax rates.

"We're concerned about what kind of message that will send to the business community," Baise said.

The Senate Higher Education Committee voted 8-1 for the legislation Thursday, but it faces a cloudy future as it heads to the Senate floor. To become law, the bill would have to pass the full Senate and House and be signed by Gov. Rod Blagojevich. But the governor has said he would veto any legislation that increases income taxes. Lawmakers could override a veto with a three-fifths vote in each chamber, which would require bipartisan support.

School district looks into hacking
Chicago Sun-Times Education Reporter, 5/13/05

Two Hinsdale Central High upperclassmen are under investigation for allegedly hacking their way into the district's computer system and obtaining access to every students' Social Security number, authorities said Thursday.

School officials said the pair claimed they didn't use the Social Security numbers, but even so, as a precaution, parents were advised to alert credit reporting agencies that their child's number had been compromised.

In a letter to parents this week, Principal James Ferguson said the students will be disciplined, although they "seemed more focused on entering the files to demonstrate they could gather the data than on actually using the Social Security numbers.''

Hinsdale Police Chief Brad Bloom said police began investigating the matter Thursday after school officials alerted his office. Even if the students did not use the Social Security numbers, they potentially could be charged with tampering with computerized records, a misdemeanor punishable by jail, just for accessing them, Bloom said.

Petition of support

Both students are on the senior dean's list, other Hinsdale Central pupils said. The mother of one of the alleged hackers said her son was merely using the school's computer for programming as part of his Hinsdale Central advanced computer class.

"He did not get into their database,'' the mother said. "He did not have access to Social Security numbers.''

A Web-based petition supporting the two alleged hackers has already been signed by 80 students, one of whom contended that the district "is just mad because they got outsmarted by a student.''

Rumors have been circulating throughout the school that the hackers were trying to make a Web site to post the winners of the school's Senior Superlatives awards before the school did so, when they found themselves inside the school's computer system with "access to just about everything,'' said one junior, who asked to remain anonymous.

"In a really weird way, they are doing the system a favor because they are showing the system needs [help]. I don't want anyone getting my Social Security number, so I'm glad these guys got it first, before a criminal went in and messed with our Social Security numbers,'' the student said.

'Some inaccuracies'

School officials said the hackers apparently had access to the numbers for months, but the suspects have insisted they destroyed a list of such numbers and did nothing with them.

Hinsdale District 86 spokeswoman Charla Russell said officials first became suspicious their computerized record system had been compromised last week, when "some inaccuracies'' were noticed. Russell would not explain what kind of inaccuracies, but said the tampering was confirmed this week and police were notified.

The taxman giveth ...
Chicago Tribune Editorial, 5/13/05

A little more than half of the school districts in the state operate in the red. They have to deal with such grim realities as spiraling medical costs and a state government that doesn't have a lot of cash to give way.

They should not, though, have to deal with a sudden, unexpected demand that they return a huge chunk of their operating budget. That's what can happen when a local business wins an appeal of its property tax assessment. The local schools have to return any money collected under the faulty assessment. Often, that is money they collected and spent years earlier.

Forty-two school districts in Cook,
Lake and DuPage Counties collectively have lost more than $200 million from such tax appeals since 1998, according to Donna Baiocchi, executive director of Ed-Red, an advocacy organization for suburban school boards. The Chicago Public Schools system has had to refund $200 million. The number and size of such refunds have escalated in recent years.

Businesses have every right to appeal their taxes, as do individuals. But there are some reasonable ways to soften the blow to schools.

The General Assembly is considering legislation that would cap the interest rate on refunds to the inflation rate or 5 percent, whichever is less. Schools now are required to pay back the refund, plus 5 percent interest. That qualifies as an excellent return on investment for businesses--but a bad deal for schools.

Another bill would require that taxing bodies be notified of major property tax appeals so they can anticipate a budget hit. In
Cook County, schools often don't know about major appeals until the moment they get hit up for the refund.

A third bill--the most significant one--would change the way businesses are compensated when they win an appeal. Rather than get a refund for a certain amount, their assessment would be lowered temporarily so they would save that amount in future taxes.

That way, the businesses would get what is due to them, but the schools wouldn't lose the money. Every other taxpayer would see a slight rise in taxes to make up the difference. Is that fair to other taxpayers? Yes. When a large business is overassessed, it pays too much in taxes and everybody else pays a little less. This legislation would correct the imbalance.

Tax appeals often take years to be resolved. All taxing bodies are affected by such refunds, but schools get hit hardest because they rely so heavily on property taxes. Schools receive more than half the take on a typical tax bill.

Schaumburg School District 54, with an annual budget of $180 million, has had to refund $28 million since 2001. "Anytime you lose that kind of money it's very difficult ... to make it up," said Moshin Dada, assistant superintendent for business services.

Northfield, School District 31 officials learned last fall they owe Allstate Corp. a refund that amounts to 17 percent of the district's $11 million budget.

"We can't paint the corporations as bad guys, because they're simply following good business practices and trying to combat what they think are unfair assessments," said Supt. Debra Hill, who oversees 852 students. "But how do you budget, how do you expect to pay bills?"

Good question. The legislature can go a long way toward supplying some answers.


Houston schools adjusts to NCLB
13 'ineffective' educators asked to resign this year
By Julie Hubbard, Telegraph Staff Writer, 5/9/05

WARNER ROBINS - Either resign, or be fired.

That's what 10
Houston County school teachers and three assistant principals were told this school year when school officials ruled they were "ineffective."

"Accountability has increased every year," said Ron Busbee, director of human resources for the
Houston County school system. "There's a sense of urgency now. We don't have time to invest in people not meeting the needs of these children."

Experts say the increasing pressure on schools to meet tougher standards is prompting school systems across the country to take a closer look at who's heading their classrooms. School systems that miss the mark get poor ratings and could lose funding.

Under the No Child Left Behind Act, a federal law approved by President Bush in 2001, school systems are supposed to have "highly qualified teachers" - meaning teachers trained and certified in the subject they teach - in every classroom by the end of the 2005-06 school year. And under the federal law, by 2014, students of all economic and ethnic backgrounds are to be on a level playing field.

The push for "highly qualified teachers" is prompting a rise in the number of
Houston County teachers not being rehired. Last year, only two administrators and three of Houston's about 1,950 teachers did not receive contract renewals because of their performance, Busbee said.

This year, three assistant principals - all employed by the system for at least four years - were not asked back. One resigned; the other two will be in a classroom teaching next year, Busbee said. All three assistant principals, he said, were given the option to teach.

All of the 10 teachers - two in elementary, four in middle and four in high schools - have resigned, Busbee said. The teachers were mostly in their first to third years. Busbee said the teachers would get unsatisfactory performances on their file with the school system.

"We have pretty high standards in terms of performance. The only way we have a quality system is to have quality, enthusiastic, good teachers to lead the schools," he said.

All 13 teachers and assistant principals were given opportunities to meet the school system's standards, through warnings, teacher development training and meetings with principals, he said.

A few of the those not rehired could not be reached for comment by The Telegraph on Friday or did not return a phone message. One person reached said he didn't want to comment because he is looking for another teaching job in

In 2004, 91 percent of
Georgia's teachers were retained, a statistic that has held steady, said Cyndy Stephens, the director of education workforce and research and development for the state Professional Standards Commission.

"This is happening all across the country," Stephens said. "What
Houston and other (school systems) are doing is meeting the law. All educators have the responsibility to make sure they are accountable for the students they are teaching."

There's nothing wrong with raising the bar, she added.

But according to Daniel Kaufman, spokesman for the National Education Association, a Washington-based organization promoting quality public education and the advancement of teachers, the NCLB law is sticky and could hurt teachers who have great potential.

"We haven't heard too many stories of teachers losing their jobs yet - because (schools) haven't hit their (highly qualified teachers) deadline," Kaufman said. "We think it's happening, but we don't know how widespread it is."

In most instances, the teachers not rehired by school systems are those that have been in a school system for decades and haven't been certified in the subject they teach, Kaufman said.

And in more urban and rural school systems - often considered to pay less and have poorer students - there is often a teacher shortage and school systems work to retain teachers, he said. But wealthier school systems, Kaufman said, might not be giving any breaks.

"We're hoping schools will be more flexible and work with (teachers considered less experienced) and use it as an opportunity to train, instead of - willy-nilly, let's go clean house," Kaufman said. "But, it's all just now on the radar screen."

Both Peach and
Bibb County schools said they have not failed to renew any teaching contracts for next year on the basis of No Child Left Behind.

Instead, the Bibb school system is cautious when hiring teachers, said spokeswoman Judy Parker.
Peach County schools special projects director Woody Freeman said the system also is more selective in the hiring process.

Because students are now required to have higher thinking skills and be able to master state curriculum, "Our eyes are now open," Freeman said. "You have to be picky with your selection of teachers."

The number of non-renewed teachers in
Houston County could continue to rise through the years, Busbee said.

"Teaching is a hard job, much harder today," he said. "We will not tolerate low-performing teachers or administrators. Our first responsibility lies with the community and with that we put pressure on ourselves."

Schools have to meet state standards called Adequate Yearly Progress. If they don't meet the standards for two consecutive years, students have the option to transfer, and schools can lose funding. Students in third grade and fifth grade must also now pass the Criterion Referenced Competency Test to be promoted under the NCLB law.

Houston County school system is not just being picky, Busbee insisted.

"The standard is raised everywhere," he said. "We can sit back and breathe and say, 'Oh, isn't it awful - woe is me,' or we can do something that's right for kids."

Some See School Buses as Vehicles for Advertising
Trustees in
Templeton, Calif., will vote on the issue. Commercialism critics say students should be learning ABCs, not GMC.
By Susana Enriquez,
Los Angeles Times Staff Writer, 5/8/05

In an unusual attempt to raise money because of dwindling state funds, a small school district in
Central California is considering putting ads in its school buses.

Critics would like to see the practice halted before it spreads. But in the town of
Templeton, with only 5,298 people, school officials see it as one of their few options.

Currently, only eight states allow advertising on school buses, said Robin Leeds, spokeswoman for the Virginia-based National School Transportation Assn. In the states that do allow it, the majority of school districts don't,
Leeds said.

Gary Duke, superintendent of the
Templeton Unified School District, was opposed to the idea until he saw that the district's $16.5-million budget was not stretching as far as it used to.

Last year, the district did not fill 10 teaching positions; this year, it won't fill three. And next year, Duke is expecting a $225,000 decrease in state funding when the 2,700-student district loses about 50 students.

"We're a school district. We're not a marketing agency," he said of Templeton, located 35 miles north of
San Luis Obispo. "I'd rather not be doing it because it's not what schools should be doing. But, we need the money."

From this marketing venture, the district expects to make $7,560 the first year and $13,230 the second year.

It will probably level off around $15,000 a year because, as a small district, Templeton may not be able to attract many advertisers.

The extra revenue would just about cover the recent rise in fuel costs, said Bill Schassberger, the director of transportation.

"If we need the money and we can make it positive for the kids, maybe it's not such a bad idea," said Schassberger, who was also skeptical at first. "We're not going to buy fun things with this money. We're going to buy necessities like toilet paper and fuel."

School trustees will discuss the issue Thursday. If approved, the 12-by-26-inch, thin vinyl ads would be placed inside the district's 12 buses — the California Highway Patrol does not allow advertising on the outside of school buses — in the concave area where the roof meets the sides.

But Gary Ruskin, executive director of the watchdog group Commercial Alert, said it would be unfortunate if
California, which he called a leader in protecting children from commercialism, went the other way on school bus ads.

"It corrupts the integrity of public education because schools and school buses should be used for education, not for hammering children with ads," Ruskin said. "We send our kids to school to teach them to read and write and add — not to shop."

In January, the
Scottsdale Unified School District in Arizona started advertising on the outside of its school buses.

Arizona is low on the totem pole on the amount of money we get from the state," said Daniel Shearer, the director of transportation. "We're always looking to reduce our expenditures and increase our funding."

So far, the district has made $17,000 a month; next year, district officials hope to raise $40,000 a month.

Shearer said the district plans to use some of the money to retrofit vehicles in its fleet to curb pollution. The rest of the money will go into the general fund.

Of the 100 ads that are plastered on the sides of
Scottsdale's school buses, the Martin Buick GMC dealership has cornered the market with 70 ads. Scottsdale's original ambulance company has between 30 and 40 public service advertisements about keeping safe around water.

Shearer said he has received three inquiries per week from school districts in
Arizona, Colorado, Texas, Michigan, Minnesota, Maryland and Florida.

Media Advertising in Motion, a newcomer in the bus advertising business, holds the
Scottsdale account and is vying for Templeton.

Jim O'Connell, one of the principal partners of Media AIM, said the company is negotiating with eight districts, predominantly in
Arizona and California, and is expecting proposals from half a dozen others.

"It's growing out of a strong need for revenue at schools," he said.

Media AIM, which is based in Menifee in
Riverside County, charges advertisers $30 to $55 per month for interior ads, depending on the quantity of ads and the length of the campaign. The district receives 60% of the revenue.

The company avoids ads for alcohol, tobacco, gambling and anything with sexual connotations. It allows each school district to set its own policy on what ads are acceptable. Scottsdale, for example, only considers for-profit corporations because those ads can be handled as commercial speech and therefore be subject to tighter regulations than advocacy ads that can be defended on 1st Amendment grounds.

Los Angeles Unified School District, the second-largest district in the nation, has considered placing ads inside its buses for the past few years.

David Palmer, the deputy director of transportation, said that at some point, district officials will evaluate the problems and successes of other school districts.

By placing 20 ads on each of the 1,300 buses it owns, Los Angeles Unified could make about $800,000 per month. The district could get significantly more if it also places ads on the nearly 1,000 buses it contracts for.

"It's something that is definitely on the radar," Palmer said. For now, he added, the project is on the "back burner."

Connecting With the American Dialect
Insight Into West African Cultural Disparities Reshapes English Lessons
By Maria
Glod, Washington Post Staff Writer, 5/9/05

Alex Wollor speaks English. It is the language he used at home, in school and on the streets in his native

So when the teenager fled the civil war there, eventually settling with his mother and sisters in
Fairfax County five years ago, he expected the shared language to ease his transition. But he found that classmates often gave him blank looks, unable to understand what he said. Teachers found fault with his written work.
"I thought it was going to be the same, but when I came here, it wasn't," Wollor, 16, said. "You know how people speak slangs? In
Africa, people have different slangs. If I was talking fast, you wouldn't understand me."

In the past several decades, the influx of children of all nationalities has led to the development of successful programs to teach immigrants as they learn English. But teachers are finding that it is a very different challenge to educate such West African students as Wollor, who come from vastly different cultures where the mother tongue is English, but not the standard American version.

Educators say that learning a different form of English can be even more challenging than picking up an entirely new language, because students never know when the habits of a lifetime will be right or wrong. "It's very frustrating for them," said Dena Sewell, a dual-language assessment teacher with
Fairfax County schools. "They've learned English, and all of a sudden we say, 'You don't speak English the right way.' "

Fairfax schools have a pilot World English Literacy class at West Potomac High School to help West African immigrants. Montgomery County schools are creating a program for all World English speakers, who can include children from places as divergent as the Caribbean, Australia and Canada. Other districts are using a one-on-one approach.

A complex blend of linguistic and cultural phenomena set English-speaking students from
Liberia, Ghana, Nigeria and Sierra Leone apart from other World English speakers, educators say. Most West African children learned a form of English in school and are fluent in it, but many lag in reading and writing partly because of limited or interrupted schooling. Socially, many of them speak Creole, a mix of English and regional dialects. And many have experienced or witnessed violence in their home countries, leaving psychological scars that make learning harder.

Sewell, a veteran English for Speakers of Other Languages teacher who started with
Fairfax schools in the 1970s, said she started to see a need for new teaching techniques in the mid-1990s as a small wave of families began to arrive from West Africa. Between 1995 and 2000, school officials said, 481 West African children moved into the district. In the 2001-02 school year alone, 268 additional children from Ghana, Sierra Leone, Liberia and Nigeria entered Fairfax schools.

Teachers soon found that their new students weren't a good fit for the ESOL system. It was clear that an English-speaking child from
Sierra Leone didn't belong in a class next to a newcomer from Vietnam or El Salvador who spoke a completely different language. But that same student struggled in classes with students who were reading and writing at a much higher level.

In 2002, Sewell formed the World English Speakers Team, a group of
Fairfax teachers and administrators who set out to determine what was going wrong for West African students and what would work. They found that teachers sometimes chalk up apparent errors in writing to sloppiness or bad behavior, failing to understand the cultural and linguistic gaps. ("I feel that they think their English was acceptable in their 'previous life' and see no reason to change," one Fairfax teacher wrote in response to a questionnaire about World English students.)

The survey also found that the students often don't perceive differences in their version of English and American English and grow frustrated at their placement in classes with those who were learning English for the first time.

To complicate matters, the students adapt their spoken English quickly and, like any teenagers, pick up the latest American expressions. But their ease in conversational English masks the difficulties they face in learning, or relearning, the grammar rules they need for writing.

In a student who has such difficulties, teachers might see someone who appears to be slacking off or has a learning disability, not a child who was educated in Africa and who might also suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder. "The classroom teacher says, 'Well, he speaks perfectly fine, but he's lazy and won't write for me,' " said Supreet Anand, former head of
Prince George's County Schools' ESOL program and a second-language acquisition specialist for the Maryland State Department of Education.

Christa de Kleine, an associate professor of linguistics at the College of Notre Dame in
Baltimore has been studying writing samples from 100 West African students in middle and high schools in Fairfax County. She said early research indicates that many are progressing more slowly than other classmates who speak a foreign language and are also learning English.

"You keep trying as a student, and you keep being corrected in ways that don't make sense," de Kleine said. "It's a path that leads to less performance, not more."

De Kleine observed that their most common "mistakes" have their roots in Creole or standard West African English. The students often use a past-tense verb only at the beginning and end of a written story, using present-tense verbs for everything in between. They leave out articles and neglect to tack an "s" on verbs in the third-person singular.

One ninth-grader wrote: "I will want to be like Nelly because I like the way he look, talk, walk, sing, dance, dress, smile. . . . " (De Kleine noted that once a teacher corrects an error, confused students often react by "hypercorrecting," in this case adding an "s" to words where it is not needed.)

To break those patterns, de Kleine said, teachers and students need to understand that they are speaking different languages. She joined the World English Speakers Team and has been telling
Fairfax teachers about the way English is spoken in Africa.

Fairfax also put books about African culture into classrooms -- subjects that are familiar to the students and capture their attention. And the district has held workshops for teachers on the impact of trauma.

In the pilot World English Literacy class at
West Potomac High School in the Alexandria section of Fairfax County, ESOL teacher Rose Akpati, a native of Nigeria, draws on her experience and de Kleine's work to teach a dozen West African students. She focuses on vocabulary, sentence construction, verb tense and comprehension. Every so often, she slips into Creole.

Cecelia Kimber, 17, who came from
Liberia in 2003 and settled with a cousin in Fairfax, said she enjoys the class but wonders why she needs it.

"The program is not for me, because I already learned English in my country," she said. "For us, the way we talk, that's how we write. Writing the way I talk, the teacher thinks I am wrong."

Alexei Finoguenov, an ESOL teacher in Baltimore City Public Schools, has found some success in small groups. He often brings the five West African students in his classes together and stresses that they must learn a new form of their language because they are in a new country.

"It's very hard to change a language reality that has lasted the life of the student and is still being spoken within the family home," Finoguenov said, noting that it is particularly difficult when much of the language his students hear on the streets of
Baltimore isn't standard American English, either.

But change is possible, he said. A student recently told him that his father and uncle have taken to slipping into the Creole they had used in their native country when the conversation isn't meant for young ears.

State looking for more NCLB flexibility
By SARAH COOKE, Associated Press, 5/9/05

HELENA -- Citing Montana's sparse population and small schools, state Superintendent of Public Instruction Linda McCulloch said Monday she's asked the federal government for more flexibility in measuring student progress under the No Child Left Behind Act.

McCulloch, an outspoken critic of the 2002 education reforms, wants the U.S. Department of Education to let
Montana to use more data in determining whether its schools are meeting the law's yearly progress requirements.

Currently, progress is measured largely by student test scores.
McCulloch and other state officials say district trends, five-year plans and other long-term benchmarks should be included in the mix because they provide a more valid snapshot of

"The calculated process is very narrow, and when you're dealing with small numbers of students we don't feel (test scores) give a very accurate picture of adequate yearly progress," said Nancy Coopersmith, assistant superintendent.

State officials have used the more subjective standards to measure NCLB progress at
Montana's smallest schools the past two years, but want the model extended to all state schools. All schools in Montana, they say, are small compared to other states.

"Even our largest school districts are rural by definition of other states. ... By definition, we believe all our schools would benefit by being in this process," McCulloch said.

The U.S. Department of Education must approve the request, and is currently negotiating with state education officials, said Kerri Briggs, a senior policy adviser with the department.

"We've given states a lot of room on this issue in coming up with ways of holding small schools accountable," she said. "When you have a school with 10 kids, it's kind of hard to think of putting those results through the typical (annual yearly progress) formula."

The department has approved the state's two prior requests for a rural schools annual yearly progress process, largely because it has proven effective and hasn't skewed results, McCulloch said.

"The scores come out comparable," she said. "We are doing this, I think, because the process is a valid process. I think it's much more credible than sticking student test scores into a computer and coming up with a decision that way."

Federal education officials have no timetable for a final decision on
Montana's request, but the state must calculate its preliminary NCLB progress figures by July 19, Coopersmith said. A final progress report is due by mid-August.

The state has used volunteers to determine annual yearly progress under the rural schools method. OPI staff members have determined improvement rates using the typical formula, McCulloch said.


Seat belts on buses not clear-cut solution
Kansas City Star, 5/10/05

More than 23 million youngsters each day climb aboard school buses where they can't buckle up because there are no seat belts.

Injuries on Monday to 23 unbelted
Ridgeview Elementary School pupils are again raising questions about whether there should be seat belts on school buses.

“I never put my granddaughter in a car without a seat belt,” said Elaine Johnson, who was picking up her 6-year-old granddaughter — who was not on the bus — at the school Monday.

While school bus seat belts may seem a necessity, safety experts say the issue is complex. They say even modern lap-and-shoulder harnesses would add little protection. And simple lap belts could result in more serious injuries.

Government studies show modern school buses are the safest way to transport children. From 1992 to 2002, less than 1 percent of all fatal driving accidents involved one or more of the 450,000 school buses that transport children every day in

Last year, only five children died in school bus accidents. Put another way, children have a better chance of dying walking to school or riding in a car with their parents, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

Many more children — 800 — die each year walking, biking or riding in a car to school.

“There is no question there would be marginal improvement in safety with a combined lap-and-shoulder belt,” said Rae Tyson, spokesman for the highway safety agency. But the question, he said, is how to improve “a form of safety that is already the safest in the nation?”

As a result, the reality of the debate over school bus seat belts is whether the potential benefits are worth the cost. Transportation experts estimate that lap-and-shoulder harnesses add $7,000 to the cost of a new bus.

Experts said it would be unsafe to retrofit existing buses with lap-and-shoulder harness systems.

One reason is because school bus safety is based on “compartmentalizing” children within a “protective envelope” consisting of closely spaced seats with energy-absorbing backs that collapse forward in a crash, like dominoes.

What's more, adding seat belts would reduce the average number of students a bus could haul from 72 to 60. For a school district with 10 buses, the extra costs to add buses or routes could exceed $200,000.

“These are practical problems,” said Tom Quinn, director of school governance for the state of
Missouri. “If you need more buses, you have to spend more money,” Quinn said.

Still, health-care and child-safety advocates said the safety-versus-cost issue is not a closed book.

“It's a controversial thing,” said Denise Dowd, an emergency physician at Children's Mercy Hospital and a member of a committee of the American Academy of Pediatrics that has studied the issue.

“It becomes this economic argument,” Dowd added. Even so, she said, “Our academy is for lap-and-shoulder harnesses on school buses because we always come out on the safety side when it comes to children.”

Four states agree.
New York, New Jersey and Florida require seat belts on school buses. California will require belts, starting in July.

A seat-belt measure was introduced this year in the Missouri General Assembly but has not advanced. The Kansas Legislature considered but rejected a similar measure in 1997.

“This is a taxpayer decision,” said Charles Gauthier, executive director of the National Association of State Directors of Pupil Transportation Services. “There's no free lunch.”

Some advocates don't want to measure the issue in dollars and cents.

“What price is our children's well-being?” asked Alan Ross, president of the National Coalition for School Bus Safety.

Federal law requires buses weighing less than 10,000 pounds to have safety restraints. The reasoning is the vehicles are closer in size to cars and trucks, so seat belts would add protection.

Vallas denies rumors he's leaving
Speculation that he might resign seems to arise from circumstances that might invite a bailout.
By Susan Snyder,
Philadelphia Inquirer Staff Writer, 5/10/05

Paul Vallas - who is approaching his third anniversary as
Philadelphia schools' chief - squelched talk yesterday that he is preparing to depart from the 185,000-student district.

Even one of his bosses - School Reform Commissioner Martin Bednarek - asked Vallas if he might leave in a face-to-face meeting yesterday.

"I'm not going anywhere," Vallas, 51, who earns $225,000, said in a telephone interview. "I'm going to honor my contract. I've got to make this work."

Vallas' five-year contract expires in July 2007, but he said in an interview several weeks ago that he would like to stay even longer if the School Reform Commission wants to keep him.

Several factors could be fueling speculation of an early departure:

On his third anniversary in July, Vallas becomes eligible to receive a $300,000 "incentive" bonus for staying on the job. Under the "retention incentive plan" in his contract, the district puts aside $100,000 every year as motivation to keep Vallas. But he had to wait at least until Year Three to collect it.

A group of
Chicago supporters, Vallas said, continues to lobby him to return to Illinois for another run at governor in 2006. Vallas, a Democrat, lost a bid in the Democratic primary in 2002. Vallas said he will not run, and in fact, doesn't have the money to do so. Paul M. Green, a Chicago-based political science professor from Roosevelt University, agreed with that assessment. It would cost $10 million to $15 million for Vallas to make a run, said Green, who monitors the Illinois political scene.

The Philadelphia Public School Notebook, an independent public education advocacy paper, reported this month that a consulting firm had posted a Web site marketing "The Vallas Model" of school reform. Vallas has denied any involvement, and the Web site has since been removed, the Notebook reported.

Vallas said yesterday that the only consulting that he has done has been for free as part of a program by the Washington-based Council of the Great City Schools. Under a program called Cities Building Cities, the council has created teams of specialists from member districts who help their counterparts in other urban school systems.

Vallas said he has taken no pay or honorarium for consulting: "I don't want to create even the perception of conflict."

He said he's not interested at this point in pursuing a consulting gig.

The job of a large urban superintendent is grueling, resulting in an average tenure of about three years, according to the Council of the Great City Schools.

Vallas, however, already showed that he bucks that trend. He remained as
Chicago's school chief for six years before coming to Philadelphia.

Henry Duvall, a spokesman for the council, said superintendents ideally should stay at least six years to set a school improvement plan and see it through.

"It's hard to get any traction in two to three years. Vallas has built a foundation... so he can really build a superstructure on that right now," Duvall said.

Ted Kirsch, president of the Philadelphia Federation of Teachers, said he also hopes Vallas remains and believes he will.

"He's going to be here for at least a couple more years. I'm convinced," Kirsch said. "When he finishes his mission here... , he'll be in great shape for whatever it is he wants to do."

Bednarek, who at times has disagreed with Vallas, also said he wants Vallas to see through his improvement model, which includes a standardized curriculum, beefed-up high school courses, a phase-out of middle schools, and a $1.5 billion school building program.

Vallas said he wants to stay until 2008 - the deadline that the commission set for the district to meet improvement goals in test scores and other measures.

The commission so far has given indications that it is pleased with Vallas' work. He has received a 10 percent performance bonus, worth $25,000, for both Years One and Two of his contract.

In addition, Vallas was eligible to receive a 4 percent raise in July 2003 and a 3 percent raise in 2004. His base salary has not yet been adjusted, but he acknowledged that eventually he will receive that money.

Vallas added that he will not run for
Philadelphia mayor.

"Let's get all the rumors," he said last evening. "The only job I'm interested in is finishing my job here as CEO of the
Philadelphia public schools."

Connecticut Lawmakers Debate Strict Bill on School Nutrition

NEW HAVEN, May 9 - Connecticut's public schools would be banned from selling soft drinks and certain snacks during the school day under a proposal that is expected to face a final vote in the legislature in the next few days.

The proposal, the most far-reaching effort by any state to control the snacks and drinks students can buy at school, must still overcome opposition from an array of lobbyists representing the food and beverage industry, the teamsters who supply the vending machines, and school boards, including those with lucrative deals with soft drink companies.

Other states, including
California and Arizona, have taken similar steps, but those states ultimately exempted high schools from the bans they imposed on soft drink sales in elementary and middle schools in the face of determined industry lobbying.

The proposal, which passed the Connecticut Senate by a 24-to-11 vote last month, would ban the sale of soft drinks at all public schools, with some exceptions for school-sponsored events on weekends and evenings. Sports drinks containing electrolytes could continue to be sold in high schools, but not until a half-hour after school ends. Under state law, schools already cannot sell coffee, tea, candy and soda during and around mealtimes.

"This would be the strongest bill in the whole country that we have seen so far in that it applies to anywhere on campus, any time, kindergarten through 12th grade, and beverages as well as snacks," said Margo Wootan, the director of nutrition policy at the Center for Science in the Public Interest in Washington.

The proposal, known as the school nutrition bill and nicknamed "the junk food bill" by some, would also require the Department of Education in Connecticut to draw up a list of allowable snack foods available for sale in school stores, vending machines and in the parts of the cafeteria that are not serving the official school breakfast or lunch programs.

The measure would also mandate 20 minutes a day of recess for all children in kindergarten through fifth grade, an increase from the current rule that schools simply provide a break of any length of time.

So far, support for the bill has broken down heavily along party lines, with the Democrats who control the legislature generally favoring the proposal, and Republicans quarreling with it. Many credit its quick passage in the Senate to the Democratic caucus's unwillingness to break with Donald E. Williams Jr., the Senate president pro tem, who had pushed for its passage.

The battle in the House has proven harder.

Coca-Cola and Pepsi bottlers have top lobbyists arguing their case. Also speaking out against the bill has been the Connecticut Association of Boards of Education. "We don't like the bill," said Sheila McKay, a government relations specialist for the association.

She said schools were already struggling with federal mandates to improve test scores and would be hard-pressed to extend the school day to incorporate more recess without upending labor contracts. She also said her group thought it misplaced to focus only on what children drink and eat at school.

"We certainly see this as the responsibility of the parents as well," she said.

Representative Robert M. Ward, a Republican who is the House minority leader, said he shared some of those qualms. He said Republican opponents of the bill favored local control when possible. "Republicans, generally speaking, have been much more reluctant to pass school mandates and are more willing to trust local school boards," he said.

To proponents of the bill who say
Connecticut has a chance to be in the lead on a central child welfare issue, Mr. Ward said, "I don't want to lead the way in being the nanny state."

Lucy Nolan, the executive director of End Hunger
Connecticut, a nonprofit advocacy group that has pushed for Connecticut to ban soft drinks and junk food for three years, said that the financial impact on schools should be minimal because students would substitute other products such as milk, bottled water and fruit juice for the ones being removed from vending machines.

"Towns should not be making money off of the health and well-being of our children," Ms. Nolan said.

Besides, she added: "We're not talking about taking away the vending machines. We're talking about replacing what's in them."

Gov. M. Jodi Rell, a Republican, has not said whether she supports the legislation. The governor's spokesman, Dennis Schain, said she would have to see the final language of the bill before deciding whether or not to sign it into law.

School Superintendent Searches Evolving
By ADAM NOSSITER, Associated Press, 5/11/05

NEW ORLEANS -- In Cincinnati, the candidates for school superintendent were issued numbers or letters to conceal their identities. Their expenses were reimbursed in cash, so that there was no paper trail. In Monroe, La., the school board refused to disclose the names of its candidates. In Dayton, Ohio, the board didn't even know their names.

Across the country, a quiet revolution in the way larger school districts choose their leaders has taken place over the past decade. Secrecy and concealment have become central to such searches, and more and more big-city school systems are using headhunter firms that specialize in keeping things quiet.

The school boards and the headhunters defend the closed-door policy, saying good candidates will be scared off if their names become public.

Also, some school systems are afraid their candidates will be stolen away by other districts. At least a dozen of the nation's biggest school districts are now looking for a top leader, including the systems in
New Orleans, Denver, Pittsburgh, Tampa, Fla., Detroit and San Diego.
Good-government advocates and teachers worry about this secrecy trend, which has led to legal challenges by newspapers and narrow brushes with states' open-records laws.

Sue Taylor, president of the
Cincinnati teachers union, said the hush-hush approach is "antithetical to democratic society and democratic functioning."

"We are a public institution," she said. "We're governed by seven school board members who are elected by the citizens. Having such a secretive process, I believe, engendered suspicion."

Bill Attea, whose superintendent search firm, based in the
Chicago suburb of Glenview, is the industry leader, said the trend away from mostly open searches toward secret ones is unmistakable. He does about 40 searches a year.

"Your best candidates won't apply in an open search," he said. "Boards are faced with the dilemma of confidentiality, or going public and getting a lower-caliber candidate."

Typically, the school boards and headhunters try to avoid creating e-mails, receipts or other documents, to shield themselves from open-records laws.

Cincinnati, the candidates checked into their hotels under codes - "Candidate A, Candidate B" - and carried their papers away when the job interviews were finished.

"We didn't create any record whatsoever," said the headhunter employed by the
Cincinnati board, Nancy Noeske, who runs PROACT Search of Milwaukee. "That was what the board wanted to do."

Baton Rouge, La., Hazard Young Attea and Associates said it took no notes when interviewing candidates.

States with strong public-record and open government laws -
Florida, Minnesota and Michigan - have been less susceptible to the trend and are considered tougher to work in. "We take no notes in Florida," Attea said. "We take no paper."

Louisiana in the past year, The News-Star in Monroe complained to the district attorney to try to get the school board to disclose the candidates' names. The school board yielded. In Baton Rouge, the school board capitulated only after The Advocate threatened to sue.

Cincinnati, a federal judge wrote in 2003 of his "dismay with the process the board used to impede access by the press," though he dismissed The Cincinnati Enquirer's claim that the board violated the First Amendment. In Dayton, in 2000, a state appeals court had to order the board to release its records, after it had turned over the entire search to Attea's company.

Lexington, Ky., in 2003, the school board, working with a private consultant, hid one candidate with an umbrella and hustled him through a service hallway, led another in with a waiter, and refused to give any names. The Lexington Herald-Leader identified some by taking photographs as the applicants rushed to their interviews.

The winner lasted less than a year. When a new superintendent was chosen in
Lexington last year, the search was open.

Spellings Team Tackles 'No Child' Problems
By Michael
Dobbs, Washington Post Staff Writer, 5/12/05

In her four months as education secretary, Margaret Spellings has made it clear that her top priority is to fix problems with the No Child Left Behind Act, the Bush administration's landmark education initiative. To defuse opposition to the legislation, she is relying heavily on a group of like-minded aides, several of whom worked with her in
Texas, where she was a senior policy adviser to then-Gov. George W. Bush.

Education experts view Spellings's inner circle as somewhat less ideological and more operational than the group that surrounded her predecessor, Roderick R. Paige. It is also more empowered to make decisions. Under Paige, educators and department officials alike frequently complained that real power lay with the White House, and particularly with Spellings, then the president's point person on education.
In recent interviews, key members of the Spellings team said they are attempting to streamline operations at the Education Department, which employs 4,500 people nationwide and oversees an annual budget of $55 billion. They are also trying to clear up some of the controversies left over from the Paige era, including the payment of $240,000 to a columnist to promote No Child Left Behind, which requires every public school student in the country to be proficient in reading and mathematics by 2014.

Here are sketches of the key players:

- Assistant Secretary Raymond Simon, 60, was chief education officer in
Arkansas before being brought to Washington in 2004 to quell a growing rebellion over No Child Left Behind. At the time, many state legislatures and teachers organizations were up in arms over a law that they viewed as underfunded and overly intrusive. Up to 50 percent of public schools in some states were failing to meet the requirements of the law, putting many on a path to reorganization and eventual closure.

Simon, a former high school math teacher, was given the tricky task of working with the states to iron out the kinks and inconsistencies in the law, while preserving its principles. His emphasis on "common-sense" changes is in line with Spellings's philosophy. Simon has succeeded in finding a common language with some states but still faces major challenges from
Utah, Connecticut, Texas and several other states.

Nominated to become deputy secretary, the number two job at the Education Department, Simon says his experience as a state schools chief has helped him understand "the way policies actually play out." He has been the driving force in working out more flexible rules on disabled students that will make it easier for school districts to meet their obligations under No Child Left Behind.

As education chief in
Arkansas, Simon had to cope with the aftermath of the March 1998 Jonesboro school shootings in which four children and a teacher were killed. A forerunner of the shootings in Littleton, Colo., and Red Lake, Minn., the Jonesboro incident "shocked the entire state into reevaluating how we did business," he said.

- Chief of Staff David L. Dunn, 48, has worked closely with Spellings for the past 15 years. Both Spellings and Dunn worked for the Texas School Board Association as lobbyists. A budget expert, Dunn later joined a state education policy center, where he helped develop one of the first school accountability systems in the nation.

After Spellings moved to the White House staff in 2001 to oversee the implementation of No Child Left Behind, she brought Dunn as her assistant. They are both viewed as policy wonks, steeped in educational issues. He followed her to the Education Department, where he works out of a seventh-floor office next to hers.

Since taking over as chief of staff, Dunn has reorganized the operations of the department, including the much-criticized information operation. In the past, many program offices had their own spokesmen. On Spellings's instructions, Dunn is pulling the communications effort into a single team "so that we can ensure a consistent message."

"He is smart, energetic, people-friendly and policy-savvy," said Texas lawyer Sandy Kress, who, with Spellings, helped write the No Child Left Behind legislation. While some education experts privately question Dunn's administrative skills, most agree that he is pleasant to deal with.

- Deputy Chief of Staff Robin Gilchrist, 43, worked for Bush and Spellings in
Texas as the head of the state reading initiative. Nicknamed the "Reading Czarina" or simply "Madam Czarina" by Gov. Bush, Gilchrist also worked closely with Laura Bush on literacy problems and later served as director of the Texas Family Literacy Center.

As one of two deputy chiefs of staff, Gilchrist has responsibility for the program and policy sides of the Education Department. She has the job of seeing that the secretary's policy priorities are implemented and to think through new initiatives, such as how to improve the study of foreign languages.

- Deputy Chief of Staff Emily Kertz Lampkin, 31, has responsibility for communications, as well as serving as strategic adviser to Spellings. A traveling press secretary to Dick Cheney during the 2000 presidential campaign, Lampkin is viewed by some as the conservative at the Department of Education, and the most ideological of Spellings's advisers.

Lampkin moved to the Education Department in 2003 from the Commerce Department to run the communications and outreach office.

Department spokeswoman Susan Aspey knocked down speculation that Lampkin played a role in the controversial decision to hire the Ketchum Inc. public relations firm to rate journalists for their coverage of No Child Left Behind. She said Lampkin was not involved in the Ketchum contract and saw very little of its product.

Teacher finds 9mm handgun in second grader's backpack
The 8-year-old pupil at the
Birney School in Logan was being interviewed by Northwest detectives, as was his mother.
By Martha Woodall,
Philadelphia Inquirer Staff Writer, 5/12/05

Philadelphia police are investigating how a second grader obtained access to a loaded 9mm handgun he brought to the Birney School in his backpack yesterday morning.

The child's teacher at the elementary school in the city's
Logan section became suspicious around 9:45 a.m. when she noticed that the boy kept looking into his backpack, police and district officials said.

The teacher asked the child what was inside the backpack. When she saw the weapon, she took the child and his backpack to the principal's office. The principal called 911 and police arrived.

The child and his mother were being interviewed by detectives from the Northwest Detective Division late yesterday afternoon.

Dexter Green, the district's chief safety executive, said school officials had not yet spoken with the child.

"We want to know why he brought the gun here, and the other question is how he gained access to the gun," Green said. "I imagine the Police Department will be interested in that part, too."

Birney enrolls 600 students from kindergarten through fourth grade.

Green said the student - who was not identified - would be suspended for five days and then sent to a special program. He will not return to Birney.

Cpl. Jim Pauley, a city Police Department spokesman, said the child could not be charged because he was younger than 10. The boy is 8.

"The investigation is to determine how he got the firearm," Pauley said, adding that an adult could be charged.

Birney students took a letter home yesterday from principal Mollie Williams describing the incident.

"Thanks to the alertness of the classroom teacher, no one was injured," Williams wrote.

Green said the district might hold an assembly at Birney or ask crisis-team members to talk to students about the incident and the dangers of guns.

"We need to get the message about [gun] locks out to the parents," Green said.


Single-sex academies planned
Detroit district optimistic, but resistance is likely / Detroit Free Press
Detroit Free Press Education Writer, 5/12/05

Detroit Public Schools wants to open two single-sex academies in the fall, and that could restart a battle with activists who claim all-boys and all-girls schools are discriminatory and don't work.

The district announced Tuesday that applications are being accepted for the Detroit Academy for Young Women, which would be located in a wing of Chadsey High School on the west side, and the Frederick Douglass Preparatory Academy for Young Men, which would be located in the Douglass Academy on the east side.

The all-girls academy would serve ninth- and 10th-graders in the fall and add a grade the next two years. The boys school would serve all high school grades in the fall.

The last time the district tried for single-sex schools was in 1991, when officials wanted to open the country's first public all-male academies. The American Civil Liberties Union and the National Organization for Women, representing a parent, sued and won in U.S. District Court. The district didn't appeal, citing the legal costs, and the schools -- Marcus Garvey, Paul Robeson and Malcolm X academies -- ended up coed.

"We've been through this before," said Kary Moss, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Michigan, adding that the organization likely will get involved again.

She said the ACLU probably would first send a letter to the district expressing its concerns that there is no evidence single-sex schools perform better and that such settings reinforce stereotypes.

"We all want our children to have a better education, and this seems like an easy solution without spending money," she said.

School officials maintain that as long as girls and boys both have a single-sex school available, the district should be able to avert another lawsuit.

"Our research suggests that we can legally offer a single-gender academic program as long as we offer a comparable one to the other gender," said Kenneth Coleman, spokesman for the district.

The district maintains that girls and boys who attend single-sex high schools are more likely to excel in math and science. Plans call for smaller classes and rigorous courses at the new single-sex academies.

"In effect, the Detroit Public Schools will be giving these children educational opportunities that compare favorably with top private schools," said Kenneth Burnley, chief executive officer of the school district.

Research is mixed on whether single-sex schools work.

Advocates say girls thrive when separated from boys and that such schools are effective remedies for high dropout rates and low academic achievement among boys, according to a policy report from the National Association of State Boards of Education.

The report also says opponents believe efforts to implement single-sex schools detract from the goal of improving schools overall and that separating boys and girls can lead to more, not less, sex bias.

The number of single-sex schools has grown in recent years because a change in federal education law gives school districts more leeway in creating them.

The National Association for Single Sex Public Education lists 34 single-sex public schools that operated in the
United States in 2004. Many are charter schools, but some of them were created by public school districts, including two elementary schools in Toledo Public Schools and several in the New York City Department of Education.

Douglass is an alternative school that will be reconfigured to serve as a college preparatory program, Coleman said.

Chadsey High, one of the city's most culturally diverse schools, is one of 34 schools that will close for good in the fall to help dig the district out of its $200-million budget crisis. The school was targeted for closure because its enrollment of about 900 students was too low. The girls school would be located at Chadsey temporarily, until a permanent site is identified, Coleman said.

Franco Iaderosa, a teacher at Chadsey, said he didn't understand why the district would send Chadsey students to other schools only to put a few hundred students in one wing of the school.

The opening of the girls academy gives Chadsey High supporters a little hope that the district may keep Chadsey open at least while the girls school is there.

"This academy is the most positive thing that has happened," Iaderosa said. "Having the girls here would buy us time" to enroll more students.

Trash heaps pile up in school cafeterias

LAUREL, Md. - As students walk by with their lasagna, snacks and fruit, Sally Oswald sees a cafeteria routine that most parents do not.

This is no lunch line. It’s a trash line.

Students at Hammond Elementary toss away half-eaten apples, untouched sandwiches and portions of pizza slices. That’s on top of the packaging, from shiny juice pouches to plastic bags.

Even on Wednesdays, when the school encourages “waste-free” meals, lunchtime yields about 100 pounds of trash. Students weigh the trash to check each grade’s progress in reducing waste, but the numbers go up and down like signs of a struggling diet.

“When you think that this happens in every elementary school every day, it starts to speak to you,” Oswald said, looking at the weekly trash tallies. “This is a real problem.”

In scattered communities across the country, schools are working to keep their cafeterias from becoming trash heaps. Whether driven to help the environment, save money or stop a careless tossing of food, some educators say they are hungry to make lunch more efficient.

The mission isn’t easy. Many parents favor throwaway packaging that’s quick and easy, right down to pre-wrapped peanut-butter sandwiches. Students have their own reasons for leaving things behind - some feel too rushed to finish meals during brief lunch periods, some don’t like the food, some don’t think to reuse those sealable bags.

It adds up. A single student produces 45 to 90 pounds of garbage a year in disposable lunches, according to
New York’s Department of Environmental Conservation.

A federal review of the National School Lunch Program found that wasted food costs more than $600 million, plus an untold nutritional loss.

At Oak Hills Elementary in
Ventura County, Calif., students filled eight barrels a day with lunch waste just a few years ago. Principal Anthony Knight was appalled to find most of it was water bottles, plastic bags and paper products that could be recycled.

So he enforced zero-waste tolerance. Students, under the watchful eye of peer monitors, divided their trash into waste and recycling bins. Parents were strongly encouraged to eschew conveniently packaged foods in favor of reusable containers. Before long, the waste was down to about one barrel a day.

“There was resistance at first,” said Knight, now superintendent of the
Oak Park Unified School District. “Some people accused us of sticking our nose out of the educational realm and into their personal business. But most parents thought it was great because they were being taught by their children how to recycle. It became embedded in the school’s culture.”

Yet many food service workers from rural to urban areas say their schools do nothing to limit food waste, according to an informal survey by the American Federation of Teachers.

“You offer the kids choices, but you can’t force a child to eat,” said Alma Hackler, a lunchroom worker at
Fontainebleau High School in Mandeville, La. “All you can control is to try to provide them with a nutritional meal.”

Cheaters use new array of gadgets to get that ‘A'
Psst, The Secret’s Out – Cheating Goes High Tech
Kansas City Star, 5/13/05

Every year, especially during the pressure of finals, certain students take a time-tested academic shortcut: They cheat.

And while cheating is nothing new, the way some are doing it is.

Crib notes? Peeking at someone else's paper?

How last century.

Today's well-equipped cheater is armed with high-tech tools that have ushered in a new age of digital deception. Even as schools have started using technology to fight an epidemic of downloaded papers and cut-and-paste plagiarism, new threats have arrived:

Camera phones can take and transmit pictures of tests or send silent text messages to request or provide answers. MP3 players can hold downloaded notes as easily as they can hold music.

Scanners and computer editing programs can turn the ingredients section of candy wrappers into customized cheat sheets. According to reports in technology magazines, Mentos is often used because of its long paper label, which can be unrolled, flattened and easily scanned.

It's unclear whether cheating has grown with technology. But technocheating will only worsen as digital technology gets smaller, cheaper and into more hands. Last year, 36 percent of
U.S. cell phones had a camera, according to technology research firm IDC in Framingham, Mass. That figure is expected to jump to 55 percent by the end of this year, and reach 87 percent by 2009.

Cheaters also have pioneered new low-tech methods, including printing notes on the inside of water bottle labels and writing on the inside of LiveStrong bracelets.

One of the worst cases of technocheating came earlier this year in
Sugarland, Texas. A 17-year-old student placed a keystroke decoder on the back of a teacher's computer. The device logs everything that's typed, including passwords. The result: The boy stole and sold the teacher's tests. He was caught and charged with a misdemeanor.

Cheaters also can copy large amounts of information on USB flash drives — computer memory units small enough to keep on a key chain, said Dale Griffin, owner of Computer Depot in
Lee's Summit and Overland Park.

“It's a matter of plugging it in. Takes 10 seconds. And who looks at the back of their computer? We sell 256-megabyte flash drives for $28, well within a student's budget.”

Rich Cavallaro, manager of information services for Shawnee Mission schools, said his district has protected itself.

“We do everything within our power as far as safeguarding the environment,” he said. “We do not allow students, or anyone, to install executable programs such as key loggers. We have locked down the systems so that the user cannot boot up the computer from a flash drive.”

But nothing, he said, can replace diligent monitoring by teachers.

“I don't think the ingenuity of our students should ever be underestimated,” he said.

Shawn Bowers, now a 19-year-old college freshman, said some students at
Shawnee Mission North High School programmed answers into their graphing calculators, which can store words as well as numbers. They either found excuses to use them during tests, “or they'd pop it out of their backpack, look at it, then throw it back in,” he said.

Last December,
Rockhurst High School senior Steve Yanda wrote a story about cheating for the school newspaper. In an informal poll of 400 students, 73 percent admitted to some form of cheating. Several students told him they used text messaging to cheat on tests.

“It's hard for teachers to know because most of the time they are not staring at the students,” Yanda said. “They're working on something else or grading papers.”

Rockhurst assistant principal Larry Ruby said he hasn't seen any cases of technocheating, but promised swift punishment for any that arise. A first offense earns a zero grade and a letter to parents. A second offense: probation. A third instance could result in dismissal.

Deb Pontier, a math and computer programming teacher at Shawnee Mission East, doesn't think technocheating is widespread. But she can't be sure.

“I haven't seen a lot of it, but I don't know if they are just better at hiding it than we are at finding it,” she said.

She has had some problems.

“I've seen kids who have saved files on computers in order to cheat,” she said. “They can change settings that you don't know they can change. Or somebody else can pull the program up and use that to cheat. It's very hard to catch.”

Christy Darter, a science teacher at
Raytown High School, said students have always found innovative ways to cheat. Technology is just the latest. The best defense against cheating of any kind, she said, is good teaching. It's easier to steal answers for multiple choice tests. But tests that require students to apply a depth of knowledge make cheating far harder.

“Don't give them an opportunity to cheat and they don't cheat,” she said.

Many schools have taken steps to deal with the most common form of technocheating — using the Internet to download or plagiarize papers. Many teachers now require students to submit papers to sites such as, which compares papers with those found on the Internet for similarity.

Tim Dodd, executive director of the Center for Academic Integrity at
Duke University, says that's not enough.

“We will do a poor job if the only approach we try is to win the arms race — fight their technology with our technology,” he said. “We have to go back to a fundamental point: why honest behavior in the classroom and honest scholarship outside the classroom (matters). I am not as concerned about the changing technology as I am about the changing messages that students receive, that they have to get the best grades to get into the best schools to get the best jobs.”

Rockhurst's Ruby said students need to realize there are more important things than grades.

“I've never seen anyone put their GPAs on their tombstone,” he said. “You know, ‘Here lies Larry, 4.1.' That's not what matters at the end of life. It matters what kind of man or woman you were.”

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