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
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
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." TOP OF PAGE
Junior high students at the MaryaYatesSchool 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 CookCounty. 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 DukeUniversity'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
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
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
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
"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
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
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,"
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
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 NorthwesternUniversity. 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
"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. TOP OF PAGE
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
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
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
"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." TOP OF PAGE
FAIRVIEWHEIGHTS - Pontiac-WilliamHollidaySchool
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
"Just make us whole and we're happy," Superintendent Darrell
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-WilliamHollidaySchool
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.
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.
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
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 didnt 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 wasnt a problem for her, though.
Im a mom, she said, laughing. When youre
a mom, you have to juggle things anyway.
Because she already had a bachelors degree in accounting from
AugustanaCollege, Loebach enrolled in IllinoisStateUniversitys second bachelors program leading to teacher
The first semester she was able to take two classes at IllinoisValleyCommunity
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 didnt sleep a lot, and I didnt have a lot of spare
time. But I didnt 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 students desired field.
For example, Loebach, even with a bachelors 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 associates 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. Ive 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
programs 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
Urban said that IVCC also offers two different programs in the education
department. One grants paraprofessional certification for what used
to be known as teachers 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 whats called
the alternative route to teacher certification, which requires candidates
to possess a bachelors degree and at least five years of work
experience in a field directly related to the field in which they will
Alternative certification programs began in New Jersey in 1984, said Michael Lorber, the director of ISUs
alternative certification program, but by 2004 there were programs in
48 states plus the District
Although alternative certification programs are available at at ISU,
EasternIllinoisUniversity 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 Illinois Chicago
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, wasnt
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,
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
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-MoneeSchool
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
Berry said she knew of no complaints from principals or athletic
directors, that procedures were not followed or that the divisions were
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.
"Ms. 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
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
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.
The new test would be geared to their abilities, not just their grade
"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
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
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. TOP OF PAGE
CHAMPAIGN Eighteen-year veteran ChampaignCentralHigh
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."
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 persons 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 states 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.
INA Is it a myth that special education pupils drag
down average test scores?
Steve Holman, a biology instructor with RendLakeCollege 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
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 wasnt one school (in Southern Illinois) that showed special education brought them down,
he said. So maybe its a myth.
Dr. P.E. Cross, regional superintendent for Hamilton and Jefferson county schools, said the statewide test scores he has seen disagree with
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 havent seen data that would support (Holmans)
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
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 STEPs 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.
Attempting to improve the state's school funding system, a Senate panel
Thursday advanced a plan to raise income taxes while also offering property
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,
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
"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. TOP OF PAGE
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
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
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. TOP OF PAGE
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
Forty-two school districts in Cook, Lake and DuPageCounties 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 CookCounty, 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
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
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.
In 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. TOP OF PAGE
That's what 10 HoustonCounty 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 HoustonCounty school system. "There's a sense of urgency now.
We don't have time to invest in people not meeting the needs of these
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 HoustonCounty 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 Georgia.
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 BibbCounty 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. PeachCounty 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 HoustonCounty 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
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.
The HoustonCounty 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." TOP OF PAGE
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
Gary Duke, superintendent of the TempletonUnifiedSchool
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
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 ScottsdaleUnifiedSchool
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
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,
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,"
Media AIM, which is based in Menifee in RiversideCounty, 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.
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." TOP OF PAGE
Alex Wollor speaks English. It is the language he used at home, in school
and on the streets in his native Liberia.
So when the teenager fled the civil war there, eventually settling with
his mother and sisters in FairfaxCounty 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
"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?
people have different slangs. If I was talking fast, you wouldn't understand
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 FairfaxCounty 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
to help West African immigrants. MontgomeryCounty 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
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 FairfaxCounty. 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
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 WestPotomacHigh
in the Alexandria section of FairfaxCounty, 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
"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. TOP OF PAGE
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 Montana.
"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,
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.
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 RidgeviewElementary
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
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 America.
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
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
Experts said it would be unsafe to retrofit existing buses with lap-and-shoulder
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
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. TOP OF PAGE
Vallas denies rumors
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 RooseveltUniversity, 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
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." TOP OF PAGE
Connecticut Lawmakers Debate Strict Bill on School Nutrition
By ALISON LEIGH COWAN, New York Times, 5/10/05
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
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
"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
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
"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
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. TOP OF PAGE
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
In 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."
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."
In 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.
In 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
In 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. TOP OF PAGE
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
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 TexasFamilyLiteracyCenter.
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. TOP OF PAGE
planned Detroit district optimistic, but resistance is likely / Detroit
BY CHASTITY PRATT, 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
"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
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
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. TOP OF PAGE
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. Its a trash line.
Students at Hammond Elementary toss away half-eaten apples, untouched
sandwiches and portions of pizza slices. Thats 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 grades 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 isnt easy. Many parents favor throwaway packaging
thats 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
dont like the food, some dont think to reuse those sealable
It adds up. A single student produces 45 to 90 pounds of garbage a year
in disposable lunches, according to New Yorks 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
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 ParkUnifiedSchool
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 schools 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 cant force a child to
eat, said Alma Hackler, a lunchroom worker at FontainebleauHigh
in Mandeville, La. All you can control is to try to provide them
with a nutritional meal. TOP OF PAGE
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
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,
Shawn Bowers, now a 19-year-old college freshman, said some students
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, RockhurstHigh
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
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 RaytownHigh
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,
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 turnitin.com,
which compares papers with those found on the Internet for similarity.
Tim Dodd, executive director of the Center for Academic Integrity at
DukeUniversity, 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. TOP OF PAGE
Illinois State Board of Education
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Springfield, IL 62777