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State of Illinois - Governor Blagojevich 

News Clips

News Clips – May 13 - 20, 2005

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STATE  
Advocates see rare opportunity to change school funding / Daily Southtown
Educators ask U.S. for break on No Child / Chicago Tribune
School liability tax should be watched, abuses halted / Pantagraph
Animosity among advocates / Daily Herald
Will Meeks' school bill pass? / Daily Southtown
Tots face high expulsion rate / Chicago Tribune
Tax proposal shifts pain / Chicago Tribune
52% in 12th grade used alcohol / Rockford Register-Star
Charter schools' cost is at issue / Chicago Tribune
Leaders search for answers to education funding / Clinton Daily Journal
No Child Left Behind challenge focuses on special ed / The Star
Parents balk at pricey tablet PCs / Chicago Tribune
Meeks kills his bill to revamp school funding / Daily Southtown
School adds sexual bias to banned behavior / Chicago Tribune
Teacher uses radioactivity to spark interest in physics / Chicago Tribune
Illinois should mandate kindergarten for children / Rockford Register Star

NATIONAL
School buses are still safest way to school / St. Louis Post-Dispatch
Oregon teen gets detention for hugging her boyfriend / Chicago Sun-Times
Plan gives classrooms 65 percent of funds / Denver Post
Seattle tries to restrict vending near schools / Seattle Times
'Mobile' students stress already-strained schools /
Arizona Republic
Parents want address checks for schools / Detroit Free Press
Lawmakers see limited federal role in high school changes / Boston Globe
Public schools, private billions and the best of intentions / CNN.com
Kansas looks at redefining science / CNN.com
Florida gets OK to recalculate NCLB progress / Venice Gondolier (FL)
NCLB change likely no help / Bradenton Herald (FL)
Arkansas education fight back in court / CNN.com
Congress told schools need more math and science / Houston Chronicle

FROM “EDUCATION WEEK”
States Facing Fiscal Strain of Pensions  

Private Schools Hail Changes to IDEA
Handcuffing of Children Raises Questions

Immigrants Trigger Change, White Exodus in Iowa District

New Fund-Raising Tactics Target Parent Purchases

States Hoping to ‘Grow’ Into AYP Success  

Special Education Test Flexibility Detailed

Administration Now Promoting Incentive Fund for Teachers  


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STATE

Advocates see rare opportunity to change school funding
Christopher Wills, Associated Press, 5/16/05
 
SPRINGFIELD — Advocates of overhauling the way Illinois pays for education are acting like schoolkids waiting for the last bell of the day — frustrated by inactivity and eager to get moving.
They see this legislative session as their best chance in years.
 
It's a sign of the long odds they've faced before that they consider the current situation an improvement. After all, the governor vows to veto the idea, the powerful House speaker says he's not interested, influential business groups are opposed and any votes that lawmakers cast now will be fodder for next year's elections.
 
But that isn't stopping them.
 
"If we're waiting for the right time — if we're waiting for the governor to give us the nod, if we're waiting for the speaker to say 'Gosh, guys, do your job,' — we're going to be waiting an awfully long time," said Sen. Richard Winkel (R-Urbana). "I think it's time for us to take advantage of this opportunity."
 
The plan Winkel and Chicago Sen. James Meeks have developed would lower property taxes by $3 billion and raise income taxes enough to offset that loss. The income tax increase would also pump an additional $2.2 billion into schools and colleges.
 
A Senate committee approved the idea last week and sent it to the full chamber, where Senate President Emil Jones (D-Chicago), is helping round up the votes to get it passed.
 
Complaints about the state's school-funding system are nothing new. For decades, commissions have studied the system, experts have recommended changes and politicians have debated proposals. But every concrete plan has failed.
 
Advocates are excited now because they see opportunity in the confluence of intense grass-roots interest and woeful state finances.
 
More and more
Illinois schools face budget problems that threaten the quality of their teaching. About half the state's schools are running budget deficits that force them to cancel programs and cut staff.
 
A-Plus
Illinois, a coalition of groups pushing for more education money, says cuts for the 2003-04 school year meant the state had 3,400 fewer teachers and the size of elementary classes grew by 5 percent. At the same time, schools must meet tougher state and federal standards.
 
The result, advocates say, is a growing consensus across
Illinois that schools need more help and that local property taxes cannot provide it. They say surveys show two-thirds of voters want the state to overhaul the system.
 
Meanwhile, state government has its own budget problems. After years of deficits and cost-cutting, little new money is available for schools. Some lawmakers are concluding that if education is really their top priority, then they'll have to take drastic action to support it.
 
"If we want to do what most politicians agree is necessary — invest in education — we're going to have to look at the revenue side of the picture," said Bindu Batchu, manager of the A-Plus Illinois campaign.
 
Illinois schools currently get about 60 percent of their money from local property taxes and only 32 percent from the state, with the rest coming from federal sources. The reliance on property taxes means the amount of money their receive varies wildly depending on a district's property values and tax rates.
 
A school in an affluent
Chicago suburb might be able to spend $10,000 on every student, while a school in a dying downstate town might provide half that.
 
The last serious attempt to change the system was in 1997, when Republican Gov. Jim Edgar pushed a plan to swap higher income taxes for lower property taxes. It was blocked by the state Senate's Republican leader.
 
Today, the Senate's Democratic leader is the one pushing for action, and the governor, Democrat Rod Blagojevich, is trying to block it. Blagojevich unequivocally says he will veto any income tax increase.
 
That means supporters are aiming to pass the plan by veto-proof two-thirds majorities in the Legislature, rather than simple majorities.
 
Accomplishing that, however, would require an actual vote on the idea in the Illinois House, and House Speaker Michael Madigan says there is no use in lawmakers pursuing the idea if Blagojevich is opposed.
 
State education Supt. Randy Dunn, while agreeing the funding system is deeply flawed, also defers to Blagojevich.
 
"I just don't know how you go forward on that when the governor has left no wiggle room on this," Dunn said.
 
Business groups, such as the Illinois Manufacturers' Association, oppose the plan, too. They say the state must be cautious about tinkering with taxes and should hold schools more accountable for using money effectively.
 
Advocates for change insist those obstacles can be overcome.
 
They say businesses will realize they benefit from better-educated workers and from the plan's substantial property tax cuts, Madigan will take action if he sees the Senate get the ball rolling, and lawmakers will realize their constituents want them to override Blagojevich.
 
Even if the odds are slim, they insist it's worth a shot.
 
"I don't think we ought to stop forward progress because one or another of our leaders is not interested," said Jerry Stermer, president of Voices for Illinois Children. "Our children deserve better."
 
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Educators ask
U.S. for break on No Child
Stephanie Banchero, Chicago Tribune.  Reporter Darnell Little contributed to this report
 
Education officials in three dozen states, including
Illinois, are proposing substantial changes to their No Child Left Behind requirements--alterations that would relax standards and make it easier for schools to show improvement under the tough federal law.
 
In
Illinois, for example, if just one of the planned modifications were applied to last year's test results, the number of poor-performing schools would drop by about one quarter. In Florida, it would plummet to 68 percent of all schools, from 89 percent.
 
By law, states can ask to revamp their accountability plans every year. But the rash of amendment requests was spurred, in part, by the federal government's recent decision to give states far more leeway in meeting the law's mandates. The U.S. Department of Education expects that virtually every state will apply for changes by the end of the month.
 
Federal and state officials say the mid-course alterations are necessary as states work out the kinks in the complicated and far-reaching education reform, which requires schools and districts to meet annual achievement goals in math and reading and sanctions those that do not.
 
But critics charge that educators--stung by the public relations nightmare of low-performing schools and districts--have spent too much time devising ways to help schools appear more successful.
 
"I am not suggesting that anyone has an ulterior motive, but these changes are unacceptable if they are done simply for PR purposes or to make it easier for schools to show adequate yearly progress," said Daria Hall, a policy analyst with Education Trust, a non-profit group that supports the law. "If you make changes just to make your schools look better, then you are denying children, or groups of children, the help that they need. It certainly violates the spirit of the law."
 
The attempts to relax standards come as states and school districts nationwide are rebelling against No Child Left Behind, President Bush's signature domestic policy.
 
Last month,
Utah lawmakers voted to sidestep some of the act's mandates and, by doing so, potentially gave up $76 million in federal funds.
 
And the nation's largest teachers union and seven school districts filed a lawsuit last month claiming the act is onerous and under-funded.
 
Illinois and 36 other states have opted for a less confrontational approach. Motivated, in part, by Secretary of Education Margaret Spellings' decision last month to allow more flexibility, states are asking the federal government to let them ease regulations on how student test scores are analyzed and troubled schools are identified.

No Child Left Behind requires schools to test students annually in math and reading in 3rd through 8th grade and once in high school. By law, the entire school as well as specific subgroups of children--based on race, income and special education status--must meet standards on state exams. If even one subgroup fails to measure up, the school is tagged as troubled. The achievement targets inch up every year, until 2014, when 100 percent of children are expected to pass the exams.
 
Districts are judged by the same standards.
 
States already are given a great deal of leeway in how they carry out the law. For example, they can select their own tests, set their own pass rates each year and determine how many children make up a subgroup.
 
Tinkering with the subgroup size and the pass rates are two of the most common modifications states are seeking this time around.
 
In
Illinois, if a school or a district has 40 or more low-income students, it must ensure that those students meet reading and math standards. But if there are only 39 low-income students, there are not enough to make a subgroup and the school or the district does not have to meet the standard for low income students.
 
In a letter to Spellings,
Illinois officials asked to bump the subgroup size up to 50 or 15 percent of the total test-taking population, whichever is greater. They also asked to increase the subgroup size for special education students to 60 or 15 percent of all test takers.
 
Only 11 percent of
Illinois schools have at least 40 special education students. If the number were upped to the proposed rate, only 1 percent of all schools in the state would have enough special education children to even qualify a subgroup, according to the state's letter.
 
The number of districts with a special education subgroup would drop to 174, from 452 districts, according to a Tribune analysis.
 
Gail Lieberman, special assistant to the
Illinois superintendent of education, said the proposed subgroup change is not an attempt to escape the poor-performing label.
 
"If you have a system where every school is labeled as `needs improvement' and every subgroup fails to make state standards, it's pretty tough to know where to focus your efforts," she said.
 
By law, schools that fail to meet state goals two years in a row are tagged as "needs improvement" and must allow students to transfer to better campuses and pay for their transportation. The federal sanctions apply only to schools that accept federal poverty money.
 
In Illinois, a school lands on the "needs improvement" list if the school or a subgroup fails to meet state standards two years in a row in reading, or two years in a row in math. If, for example, a school's white students fail to measure up in reading one year and the Asian-American students fail reading the next year, the school goes on the list.
 
Under the new proposal, however, a school or district would go on the list only if the same subgroup failed the same subject two years in a row.
 
If those standards were applied to last year's test results, the number of troubled schools would drop by 23 percent and the number of districts by 20 percent, according to the state's analysis.
 
Many other states already have tried to use this identification method only to be turned down by federal officials.
 
But Ray Simon, acting deputy secretary of education, said his agency is willing to reconsider the issue. In fact, Simon said his agency would consider any proposal that does not violate the law's central tenets, such as annual testing and the mandate to break down scores by race, income-level and special education status.
 
Joe Kallas, principal at Peterson Elementary on
Chicago's North Side, said he is not opposed to the state's current system.His school met state standards in every category last year except special education. If the changes were adopted, Kallas' school would not have enough special education students to count as a subgroup.
 
"I want to be held accountable for the way my special education children perform, and I think it's right to hold me accountable for every single one of them," Kallas said. "I have a bigger problem with the way they test special education children and the way they insist on punishing schools that are improving, but not fast enough. I think we should all spend more time on helping children succeed and less time worrying about the data points and the statistical analysis part of this law."

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School liability tax should be watched, abuses halted
Pantagraph Editorial, 5/15/05

Using uncapped liability tax funds to offset expenses heretofore paid from school funds with maximum tax rates is another way for
Illinois schools to bypass voter wishes.

It is a questionable practice going on in a fourth of the state's school districts, including Bloomington-Normal and several other
Central Illinois districts. A legal ruling is needed and could come at the end of this month in a contested case in Freeport.

By shifting expenses to the unlimited Tort Immunity Tax, school districts free up money in other funds that may be at their maximum tax rates. That allows more spending in those funds without asking voters to approve a tax rate increase.

The ever-increasing practice was exposed by the Illinois Business Round-Table, which said 220 districts increased their tax levies (the amount requested in tax dollars) for tort immunity costs by 100 percent or more between 1998 and 2003.

During that period, Normal-based Unit 5's Tort Immunity Fund levy increased more than 2 1/2 times, from $509,000 to nearly $1,383,000.
Bloomington's District 87 levy went from $769,000 to nearly $907,000, according to the Round Table study.

State education officials haven't monitored the tort taxes, saying that is the responsibility of local school boards and their outside auditors.

It has been argued in court that the Tort Immunity Tax was intended to pay the cost of legal settlements or judgments and expenses directly associated with those claims. Therefore, the fund does not have a maximum tax rate because schools seldom know in advance what those costs will be and the Legislature didn't want them taking money from funds that would affect education and possibly cause schools to lay off teachers because of unexpected legal claims against schools.

However, the Legislature tinkered with the original wording of the law to include "risk management" costs, which seems to have opened the door to widespread interpretations of what the tax may be used for. Most schools have developed "risk management plans" to justify using tort tax money on virtually anything that could be declared a legal risk.

It's obvious from what some school districts are using the tax for that they are abusing the intent. An example would be a district that used the fund to pay to replace sidewalks, with a justification that someone could fall on a broken walk and sue. Therefore, they reasoned, they were preventing a potential lawsuit. Others have paid school crossing guards. With such guidelines, almost anything that could be perceived as saving a lawsuit could be justified.

The major increases in Bloomington-Normal schools have been caused primarily by shifting costs to pay for unemployment insurance, workers compensation and the cost of liability insurance.

But a few salary shifts are included, too. Just this year, Unit 5 shifted $172,000 from the education fund to the tort fund to cover 5 percent of the salaries of its principals, assistant principals and athletic directors. Superintendent Alan Chapman said Unit 5 took a conservative approach, figuring that the administrators easily spend 5 percent of their time on school/student safety issues.

In District 87, at least half the increase in the tort tax paid for increased insurance costs. The other portion involved paying some insurance out of the tort fund that had previously been paid from the education fund. Money is also now budgeted from the tort fund to pay for police and legal services.

This shifting fad has spread over the last few years through school administration conferences and workshops, plus recommendations of schools' outside auditors.

With many Illinois schools in financial difficulties, creative revenue sources should be expected, especially those over which voters have no control, such as the tort tax.

If a clear definition of what tort immunity taxes can be spent on doesn't surface from the pending lawsuits in
Freeport, the Legislature needs to meet with school administrators to come up with parameters that accommodate reasonable expenses but stop abuses.

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Animosity among advocates
Suburban groups are urging a new way to fund schools, but they can’t agree on how to do it 
Jeffrey Gaunt, Daily Herald, 5/17/05
 
“It is a horrible bill. “It is horrible for
McHenry County. Anything in that bill that was positive, in our opinion, has been stripped from it.”
 
Cheryl Meyer, chairwoman of Building Exceptional Schools Together
 
The cry for better funding of public education could reach a fever pitch Wednesday when thousands of advocates for reform are expected to descend on the state Capitol.
 
Their goal: urge lawmakers to fix a system that has left a vast majority of
Illinois school districts awash in red ink.
 
“We hope we have a group that is so big and so impressive that the legislators believe they must pass school funding reform,” said Sharon Voliva, chairwoman of the Better Funding For Better Schools coalition, which is organizing the rally in
Springfield.
 
Hundreds of suburban residents are expected to make the trek down to
Springfield to push any one of a number of proposals for funding reform.
 
“This is an open house in the Capitol to come and say fix the issue now,” said Ursula Ahern, a former board member in Grayslake District 46 and head of the
Lake County chapter of Better Funding for Better Schools. “It is a time to not just say everybody recognizes the problem; it’s a time to be part of a solution.”
 
But while many agree the state’s education system is woefully under-funded, there is little agreement on how best to fix the problem.
 
A Senate committee last week backed a plan that would lower property taxes by a third of what homeowners paid in 2002, while raising the income tax levied on families and businesses.
 
The plan, backed by senators James Meeks, an independent from Chicago, and Richard Winkel, a Republican from
Urbana, borrows much from the tax swap floated in what came to be known as House Bill 750.
 
But while nearly all
Illinois school districts are expected to gain from the new proposal, it also places a greater share of the funding burden on taxpayers in McHenry and DuPage counties.
 
That has caused a schism between some of the groups expected to gather in
Springfield — even though they all advocate funding reform.
 
For instance, members of the Huntley-based political action committee Building Exceptional Schools Together, or BEST, plan to attend the rally on Wednesday, but oppose the new proposal, favoring House Bill 750 instead.
 
“It is a horrible bill,” BEST Chairwoman Cheryl Meyer said. “It is horrible for
McHenry County. Anything in that bill that was positive, in our opinion, has been stripped from it.”
 
Donna Baiocchi, executive director of Education, Research and Development, a group that represents more than 100 suburban districts in Cook,
Lake and DuPage counties, also has concerns.
 
“We are somewhat skeptical that the General Assembly — not just this General Assembly, but future general assemblies — would be able to live up to the promise of this money for a property tax swap,” Baiocchi said. “If there is another dip in the economy, the first thing they will go to would be the property tax abatement.”
 
Others believe that any funding reform — even if it would place a higher burden on residents in certain counties — is still better than the current system.
 
“It’s the right thing to do,”
Lindenhurst resident Brian Hunecke said.
 
Basic education in Illinois should not be based on ZIP code, Hunecke said, which allows a school district in northern Illinois to spend upward of $18,000 per student, while a downstate district spends $5,000.
 
On Wednesday, funding reform advocates are expected to throw their support behind both the new proposal and House Bill 750 — depending on the needs of their particular district or community.
 
But Gov. Rod Blagojevich on Monday continued to throw cold water on the new proposal — which is the only one of the two that has a shot at coming up for a vote this session.
 
“I don't believe that bill has a chance to pass,” said Blagojevich, who has vowed to veto any legislation that increases sales or income taxes. Lawmakers are unlikely to support a major tax increase knowing the governor will veto it, Blagojevich said.
 
Instead, Blagojevich urged those who attend the rally to support his plan to provide $440 million in new money for schools by doubling the number of slot machines at
Illinois casinos.
 
Blagojevich said it’s the only one that has a “realistic” chance at winning approval this session.
 
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Will Meeks' school bill pass?
House speaker may not let funding reform bill get called for a vote
Kristen McQueary, Daily Southtown, 5/17/05
 
In "Money for Schools: Passing the Bill," the Southtown will monitor the fortunes of current school funding reform efforts in a series of reports.
 
State Sen. James Meeks knew it would be difficult to convince his colleagues to support an income tax increase.
So the Chicago Democrat recruited some help in nudging them along.
 
For months, Meeks has been on the phone with mayors, college presidents and school superintendents from
Rock Island to Carbondale, lobbying them to support House Bill 755. The bill would raise individual income taxes from 3 percent to 5 percent, hike corporate income taxes from 4.8 percent to 8 percent and provide property tax relief.
 
The bill also assures that the money raised would be spent on education, not dumped into the state's main checking account.
 
For the first time in nearly 10 years, the concept is nearing a full vote in a legislative chamber. The Senate may vote on it as early as Thursday.
 
By going directly to local officials, Meeks has created a delicate dance for his colleagues who oppose the bill: Saying "no" to Meeks carries very few ramifications; saying "no" to local mayors and school superintendents could damage important relationships.
 
One of Meeks' targets was Elmer "Mac" McPherson, superintendent of
Decatur School District 61, which could receive as much as $8 million in new money, according to Meeks' data. By educating McPherson about the bill, Meeks created an accomplice. McPherson has been lobbying his state senator, Republican Leader Frank Watson (R-Greenville).
 
"If the bottom line means additional dollars for us, I can't (imagine) him not supporting the bill," McPherson said of Watson. "I would be surprised."
 
Fortified by grass-roots support around the state, Meeks' bill has the 30 votes needed to pass the Senate, Meeks said. He's working to bolster that to a three-fifths majority of 36 votes, which would help it survive a gubernatorial veto.
 
"This decision is boiling down not to geography but to politics. Do representatives want to do what they were sent here to do, and that is to help the schoolchildren of their communities? Or do they want to play politics?" Meeks said. "It's as simple as that."
 
Meeks was elected in 2002 on a pledge to fix education funding. He admits he has struggled with the concentrated power structure in
Springfield. Legislative leaders control what reaches the House and Senate floors, period.
 
Meeks' leader, Senate President Emil Jones (D-Chicago), supports his efforts on HB 755. However, House Speaker Michael Madigan has expressed zero interest in calling the bill for a vote.
 
"If we can get 40 people in the Senate to put their votes on this bill, and one individual can arbitrarily decide not to call the bill for a vote, it's not a good system; it's broken," Meeks said. "Our work will be in vain."
 
Ironically, Madigan supported a tax swap bill in 1997. It was then-Senate President James "Pate" Philip (R-Wood Dale) who opposed it and refused to allow it to the Senate floor.
 
But now, Madigan questions why he should force his lawmakers to vote on a potentially damaging bill when Gov. Rod Blagojevich has said he would veto it.
 
Madigan's reasoning doesn't sit well with Meeks.
 
"I think the question for the House is, 'Will the real Pate Philip please stand up?' " Meeks said.
 
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Tots face high expulsion rate
Prekindergartner study points to staff
Meg McSherry Breslin,
Chicago Tribune, 5/17/05
 
Because prekindergartners are expelled at more than three times the rate of other school children, youngsters needing early intervention are most likely to be shut out, according to a report to be released Tuesday by Yale University's Child Study Center.
 
The report--the first national study of prekindergarten expulsion rates--should be a wake-up call to the growing emotional needs of young children and the inadequate services available to them, say prominent early childhood leaders.
 
Many advocates say the high expulsion rate is a result of poorly trained early childhood teachers, limited access to social workers and mental-health staff, and the fact that most states aren't legally required to provide prekindergarten to all kids.
 
"These 3- and 4-year-olds are barely out of diapers. No one wants to think about children this young being kicked out of school," said Walter S. Gilliam, the report's author and an assistant professor of child psychiatry and psychology at the Yale center.

"When we fail to provide these supports, we place children and their families in a very difficult situation--where some children are bounced from one program to the next and parents may end up viewing their child as an educational failure well before kindergarten," Gilliam said.
 
The study reports expulsion data from the 40 states that fund prekindergarten programs, including
Illinois. Expulsion rates exceed those of K-12 students in all but three states: Kentucky, South Carolina and Louisiana.
 
The study finds 5,117 prekindergarten pupils in state-funded programs are expelled each year, and this does not include children referred to other programs to address their special needs. The study addresses the phenomenon of expulsion, not the causes.
 
One
Illinois parent, who asked not to be identified, said her son was thrown out of eight early childhood programs. The North Shore mother filed a lawsuit after a state-funded center tried to dismiss her child and only then did program administrators work out a plan to keep him.
 
The boy, now 7 and in 1st grade, was recently diagnosed with bipolar disorder. His mother worries that the lack of attention to his needs in preschool put him further behind socially and emotionally.
 
"He wasn't able to socialize and make friends for many years," his mother said. "He didn't have the skills; he was never at a place long enough to gain them. I just think the poor preschool experiences have caused him to have more severe problems than he may have had otherwise."
 
Some early childhood leaders said the findings should force leaders to reconsider the faulty training of many early childhood teachers.
 
"Every time a teacher is so desperate that he or she asks the principal or director to place a child somewhere else, that teacher knows she has failed, failed herself and that child," said Libby Doggett, executive director of Pre-K Now, a Washington, D.C.-based advocacy group.
 
Becky Wright, a master teacher in an early childhood center run by the Jane Addams Hull House on
Chicago's West Side, said her program never expels kids even though teachers and aides are struggling to handle what seems like a growing number of difficult children.
 
Many staff members at community-based programs don't have bachelor's degrees and extensive training. Unlike a program inside a
Chicago public school, there isn't easy access to social workers.
 
"People don't think of this as school; they think of it as day care," Wright said. "It's just frustrating that we're not putting more really qualified teachers in these classrooms."
 
The Yale study found expulsion rates are lowest in classrooms in public schools and at Head Start centers.
 
Legal problems play into the issue as well. In all but a few states, there is no legal obligation for a prekindergarten program to keep a child. That's unlike kindergarten through 12th grade, where a child has a legal right to an education.
 
"This study just underscores the need for us to stop behaving as if the education of very young children should be optional," said Maria Whalen, director of
Chicago's Action for Children advocacy group.
 
Other highlights of the study include: 4-year-olds expelled at a rate about 1.5 times that of 3-year-olds; boys expelled at a rate roughly 4.5 times that of girls; and African-American children being about twice as likely to be expelled as Latino and Caucasian children and more than five times as likely to be expelled as Asian-Americans.
 
The study surveyed teachers from a random sample of 4,815 classrooms representing more than 40,000 prekindergarten programs across the nation that receive some state funding.
 
In
Illinois, the state-funded preschool program serves 55,000 children, most of whom are at risk for academic failure, from public schools and community-based programs including YMCAs.
 
While
Illinois reported the sixth-lowest expulsion rate of the 40 states surveyed, there still were three times more prekindergartners expelled than their older peers. One of every 370 prekindergarten students in Illinois is expelled, the study says.
 
Some education leaders said they see flaws in the study that may minimize its impact.
 
Ellen Boylan, an attorney and legal advocate at the
Education Law Center in Newark, N.J., said administrators--not teachers--should have been surveyed. She wonders if many children were simply referred to other programs within the district.
 
But Gilliam, the study's author, insisted that researchers phrased the question to ensure teachers understood expulsion meant a denial of services, not transfers to other programs.
 
"It's certainly not a decision a lot of teachers would want to make," he said of prekindergarten expulsions. "But I've seen it happen many times in my career."
 
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Tax proposal shifts pain
Income tax up, property tax down in plan to overhaul school funding
Diane Rado, Tribune staff reporter. Tribune staff reporter Darnell Little contributed to this report, 5/18/05
 
From wealthy big-city enclaves to middle-income Downstate communities, homeowners would see a 20 percent increase on average in their combined property and state income tax bills if
Illinois overhauls how it pays for public schools, a Tribune computer analysis of tax data shows.
 
The state Senate is poised to vote this week on a proposed $5.8 billion plan to raise
Illinois' state income tax rate to 5 percent, from 3 percent, and use a portion of the extra revenue to help homeowners pay their school taxes. Overall, state aid to public schools would rise, reducing heavy reliance on local property taxes that create disparities between wealthy and poor districts.
 
If the reforms become law, a long shot given Gov. Rod Blagojevich's opposition to raising taxes, residents would be affected depending on their school district, how much they earn and how much they pay in state income and local school taxes.
 
For example, affluent homeowners in
Chicago's Loop could expect a combined tax hike of 40 percent or more, while property owners in trendy city neighborhoods and North Shore communities could see increases of more than 25 percent, the analysis found.
 
Homeowners in
Chicago's suburbs would take less of a hit if the tax reforms take effect, the Tribune found, while well-to-do-singles who don't own homes--and wouldn't receive a property tax cut--would see tax increases of more than 50 percent. To partially offset those increases, the legislation establishes a new so-called "renter's credit" of $30.
 
Despite Blagojevich's opposition, the Senate is hoping to garner enough votes to override a veto and persuade the state House to take up the matter.
 
Senate President Emil Jones of
Chicago is backing the effort, establishing a select Senate committee to undertake a tax overhaul. But House Speaker Michael Madigan, also of Chicago, has not taken a position on the legislation, a spokesman said. Both chambers need to approve the bill before it can go to the governor.
 
Illinois has not seriously considered such dramatic tax reforms since 1997, when then-Gov. Jim Edgar unsuccessfully tried to cut property taxes and raise income taxes to fund schools.
 
Since then, school funding disparities have widened and voters largely have refused to back school tax increases. Supporters of the reforms argue that
Illinois needs to fix a beleaguered school finance system that shortchanges poor minority students.
 
But opponents say the proposed tax increases are too onerous. A family with a net income of $100,000 now has a $3,000 state income tax bill, compared with $5,000 if the reforms go through, a 66 percent tax hike.
 
Sen. James Meeks, an Independent from
Calumet City who is the chief sponsor of the tax reform legislation, said Illinois has a responsibility to help its most-disadvantaged students.
 
"You have to care about people who are at the bottom," said Meeks, who represents some of the poorest communities in
Cook County. "We have to care. This is America. This is a society based on compassion and caring."
 
The Tribune reviewed information from 5.2 million
Illinois individual tax returns filed in 2004 to determine the impact of the proposed tax policy shift.
 
To comply with confidentiality laws protecting individual taxpayer information, the Illinois Department of Revenue released total state income and local property tax information by ZIP code, excluding ZIP codes with fewer than 50 returns.
 
The Tribune calculated average income and property tax figures for filers in some 1,300 ZIP codes and much more would residents would pay if the reforms took effect.
 
The analysis focused more closely on 2.3 million tax returns for property owners.
 
Averages across ZIP codes do not reflect individual circumstances. And taxpayers also must keep in mind that state tax changes would affect federal returns as well, because federal filers who itemize receive deductions for both state income and local property taxes.
 
The legislation calls for the state to set up a "Property Tax Relief Fund," that would cover a portion of homeowners' school tax bills. The percent of local tax bills devoted to schools varies throughout the state, which affects how much relief homeowners would receive.
 
The Tribune used county averages provided by the Revenue Department to calculate the portion of tax bills set aside for schools in each ZIP code.
 
Under the proposal, next year the relief grants would equal 30 percent of total property taxes levied in the 2001 tax year. But because property taxes have increased since then, property owners could expect to see about a 25 percent reduction in school taxes on next year's bills, according to state Revenue Department estimates.
 
Despite school funding increases, state board figures also show the state contributed about 30 percent of total education dollars spent by school districts, compared with 62 percent contributed by local taxpayers and 8 percent paid by the federal government.
 
With local residents loathe to raise education taxes--some 68 percent of school tax referendum proposals failed this spring--advocates say it's time for the state to pick up a larger share of education funding.
 
Nationally,
Illinois ranks near the bottom for its contribution to funding public schools.
 
"There's a crisis, a financial and academic crisis that is hitting school districts across the state, in all geographic areas. It's no longer a Chicago and south Cook issue [districts with high poverty], it's an issue in collar counties, and rural communities Downstate," said Bindu Batchu, manager for the A+ Illinois campaign to reform public school funding.
 
Critics say pumping more money into schools may not solve the problems inherent in
Illinois' school finance system.
 
"You can't ignore the disparities [between wealthy and poor districts] but we can't assume disparity is the whole problem," said Michael Van Winkle, an analyst at the conservative Illinois Policy Institute. Some low-spending districts still have high test scores, he noted.
 
Jeff Mays, president of the Illinois Business RoundTable, said if the state is going to raise taxes for schools, it also should make sure the extra money is spent wisely.
 
"If we have goals in education, we ought to make sure we're moving toward them," Mays said. The legislation also would raise the corporate income tax to 8 percent, from 4.8 percent, as well as provide business property tax relief.
 
"I want to make sure that whatever taxes we're raising can be justified and sustainable," May said. "I want them attached to the goals this state embraces."
 
How proposed state tax reforms would affect property owners
 
A proposal to raise state income taxes from 3 percent to 5 percent and lower property taxes by about 30 percent* in 2006 would on average increase taxes for homeowners in the six-county area. Those in the
Chicago and suburban lakefront areas would see the largest hikes.
 
New tax you would pay
 
Add up the new income tax amount with the new and reduced total property tax bill. Compare that to your old property tax bill, without any school tax reductions, and your old income tax amount on Line 15 of the tax form.
 
New income tax before any credits $ B New and reduced property tax bill +$ E New tax burden =$
For a more precise figure, factor in credits. Some of those would change in 2007 and could affect you. The education credit would double -- from 25 percent to 50 percent of qualified expenses up to $1,000; and the earned income credit would quadruple, from 5 percent to 20 percent of your federal earned income tax credit.
 
*Lawmakers are using 30 percent to describe the reduction, but the amount will be smaller based on how the decrease is calculated, according to the Revenue Department.
 
Source: Tribune calculations based on state and local tax data
 
TOP OF PAGE

52% in 12th grade used alcohol
A state-funded survey questions
Rockford School District students on drug use, drinking and their neighborhoods.
Carrie Watters,
Rockford Register Star, 5/18/05
 
ROCKFORD -- Seven in 100 Rockford School District sixth-graders, surveyed last spring, said they'd used alcohol in the past month.
 
Among the district's high school seniors, 52 of 100 students said they had used alcohol in the past month. For more than a third of the seniors, it was binge drinking.
 
The
Illinois youth survey of student attitudes toward drugs, school and their neighborhoods was presented Tuesday to the Rockford School Board's Education Committee. The statewide, state-funded survey includes a random sample of sixth-, eighth-, 10th- and 12th-graders in participating districts.
 
The survey showed that fewer than half the seniors, 49 percent, said their parents had talked to them about alcohol, marijuana or drugs in the past year, despite students in every age group saying that parents have the most influence on their discontinuing use.
 
"The parents are kind of dropping the ball," said Katie Billington, the district's drug and safe schools coordinator.
 
Billington will present the report to an advisory group next week that should include state Rep. Chuck Jefferson,
Winnebago County State's Attorney Paul Logli and the mayor's office.
 
"We often say parents must do better," Education Committee member JoAnn Shaheen said. "Parents need the most help they can get."
 
Here's what kids had to say about school:
 
80 percent of sophomores said the school does not let their parents know when they have done something well.
 
72 percent of eighth-graders said they try their best in school.
 
26 percent of eighth-graders said they hate being in school.
 
82 percent of sixth-graders said their parents ask whether they've got their homework done.
 
Here's what kids had to say about drugs:
 
51 percent of 10th-graders said a family member has a severe alcohol or drug problem.
 
12 percent of sixth-graders and 83 percent of seniors said it would be sort of easy or very easy to get marijuana.
 
4 percent of eighth-graders said they smoked marijuana at age 10 or younger.
 
Results by county for the Illinois Youth Survey are available at www.illinoisyouthsurvey.org/results/countyreports.html. The
Rockford School District hopes to separate the district's results from Winnebago County results for future publication at www.rps205.com.

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Charter schools' cost is at issue
High court considers effect on districts
By
Stephanie Banchero and Erika Slife, Chicago Tribune staff reporters, 5/19/05

In the first major test for the state's charter school movement, the Illinois Supreme Court heard arguments Wednesday over whether education officials have the power to reject charter proposals that might harm the financial health of a school district.

Assistant Atty. Gen. Mary Patricia Kerns told the justices that local and state education officials have a right to consider whether opening a charter school would drain the district's resources, which could harm other public school students. Kerns was representing the Illinois State Board of Education.

But David Chizewer, an attorney for a
Rockford charter school group, said allowing districts to use financial woes as an excuse to reject charter licenses would set a bad precedent.

"It's well known that most of the districts in the state of
Illinois are operating at a deficit," he said.

"This would give districts a blanket veto."

The legal battle between the Illinois State Board of Education and the
Rockford group is the first time the state's highest court has taken up the charter school law, passed by the General Assembly in 1996.

The case is being watched closely by proponents and opponents of charter schools, quasi-public facilities operated by private companies but paid for with tax money from the school district.

Proponents say charter schools offer choices for parents and provide competition, which can force improvements in public education. Opponents argue that charters siphon money from school districts and undercut union contracts.

Charter supporters fear a court decision in favor of the state board would have a chilling effect on
Illinois' already turbulent history of public school reform.

"It would fundamentally undermine the charter school law and make it extremely difficult to start a charter school in
Illinois," said Elizabeth Evans, executive director of the Illinois Network of Charter Schools.

"If you base decisions solely on the basis of whether it will take money away from the school district, then you eviscerate the law and get rid of it by extreme interpretation."

Though state law allows 60 charter schools, only 27 have opened. Local school boards, which can deny or grant licenses, have rejected 70 percent of 185 charter proposals.

Some of the proposals were renewals of existing schools, and other approved charters never opened. Poor curriculum development and bad financial planning were among the reasons given.

Only
Chicago Public School officials have openly embraced the independent schools, awarding 20 charter licenses.

Three more are set to open next year.

Suburban officials have rejected all but one of 19 proposals. Only south suburban
Crete-Monee School District agreed to grant a license.

That charter, given to
Governors State University, was later pulled.

By law, charter groups can appeal district denials to the state board, and 33 have done so. The state board has sided with the districts in 30 of those appeals.

In the
Rockford case, Comprehensive Community Solutions applied to open a charter school for high school students who have dropped out of school or are in danger of doing so.

The
Rockford school board rejected the proposal in 2001.

"We were worried about the charter school taking money from the district, and we felt that if we had extra money, we'd rather expand our own [dropout] program," said Nancy Kalchbrenner, president of the
Rockford school board.

She said the district is facing a $30 million deficit.

Community Solutions appealed to the state board. In a 2002 opinion, the board rejected the appeal and said the charter school would create more financial trouble for the district. Community Solutions appealed to a circuit court, which sent it back to the state board.

In 2003, the state board denied the appeal again.

This time, board members cited the financial impact on the district and also questioned the economic stability of the charter proposal.

Kerns argued both points before the court on Wednesday.

Chizewer said the board has misinterpreted the law.

"It is illegal under the charter school law to consider the independent finances of a school district that have absolutely nothing to do with the terms of a charter school itself," he said.
 
TOP OF PAGE

Leaders search for answers to education funding
Gordon Woods,
Clinton Daily Journal
 
Interim Illinois Superintendent of Schools Dr. Randy Dunn joined Rep. Bill Mitchell at the Warner Library on Tuesday to talk to area residents about the state crisis in school funding. Dunn is on leave from his teaching position at Southern Illinois University at
Carbondale.

Mitchell said that Gov. Rod Blagojevich had not taken a leadership role in solving the school funding problem.
 
“It’s awfully tough to pass those bills (House and Senate school funding bills) …it’s hard when you know the governor’s going to veto them,” Mitchell said.
Mitchell expressed opposition to the governor’s plan to shift funding from other programs in order to fund education.
 
“It’s a terrible idea,” Mitchell said. Mitchell said that the state’s role should be to help fund
Illinois school districts in a way that all students have equal opportunities. “What you do with those opportunities is up to you,” he said.

Dunn was appointed interim state superintendent of schools after Blagojevich seated seven new members to the nine-member state board.
 
“There was a need to have an interim candidate, because you can’t appoint seven new members and then turn right around and have them conduct a search in a fairly short fashion,” Dunn said.

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No Child Left Behind challenge focuses on special ed
Suit: Law conflicts with education act for students with disabilities
Patrick Ferrell, The Star
 
A
Chicago Heights law firm is taking an unprecedented step toward challenging the federal No Child Left Behind law.
 
Scariano, Himes and Petrarca, on behalf of four school districts from LaSalle and DuPage counties, has filed a federal lawsuit challenging the federal act on grounds it conflicts with the federal Individuals with Disabilities Act, the law governing how schools should educate special education students.The suit is not the only one challenging the sweeping No Child education law signed by President George Bush in 2002. But it could represent the first time a school district, especially one in
Illinois, has gone head to head against the federal law in a courtroom.
 
"Not that many school districts want to challenge No Child Left Behind because the cost is so high, and there is a risk," Raymond Hauser, an attorney with the Scariano firm, said. "But we daily get calls from schools across the country who are interested in the lawsuit."
 
The suit names school districts from
Ottawa, Streator and Glendale Heights. The Scariano law firm represents several school districts in the South Suburbs, but the firm has declined to add additional districts to the lawsuit, Hauser said.
 
The suit also names as plaintiffs a group of special education students and their parents from the four districts.
 
The suit was filed in the U.S. District Court in Chicago and names as defendants the U.S. Department of Education; the Illinois State Board of Education; Randy Dunn, the state's interim school superintendent; and Margaret Spellings, the U.S. secretary of education. Spellings is considered by many to be the architect of the No Child law.
 
Under the act, a percentage of students in each school must meet proficiency standards in math and reading on standardized tests. In addition, each of a school's subgroups — groups of students such as black and Hispanic or special education and low income — must meet state standards. The benchmark moves a bit each year; all students are expected to meet state standards by 2012.
 
Schools that do not meet standards must implement extra measures, such as tutoring, or offer students a chance to switch to a better performing school district.
 
At issue in the lawsuit is whether the special education subgroup component of No Child conflicts with the federal disabilities law, which calls for educating each student according to their unique differences and learning styles.
 
"For some of our special education students, we can't give them a fair education and still put them on college prep program as No Child Left Behind requires," said Tom Jobst, superintendent in Ottawa Township High School District 140, the first district named in the suit.
 
"How do we as a school district comply with a (special education) student's (Individual Education Program) and still get them ready to take a state exam?
 
"It's a question that has to be answered, ... (and) I thought a judge would be best to make that decision."
 
The lawsuit seeks to have the special education sections of the No Child law declared invalid.
 
A spokeswoman for the Illinois State Board of Education said it is unfortunate that districts have filed legal action against the law. Rebecca Watts said the state would prefer to work with the U.S. Department of Education and local school districts to address some of the concerns.
 
The U.S. Department of Education has taken a similar stance, and both state and federal education officials have announced in recent weeks they are working on plans to change the way No Child Left Behind is applied to special education students.
 
Hauser, of the Scariano firm, contends that a judgment on the law will be more permanent and definitive than updating the law based on "political pressures."
 
Depending on how far up the legal chain the lawsuit goes, its impact could stretch far beyond the four districts named in the suit.
 
"It will definitely have a statewide impact," Hauser said. "It's probably going to be nationwide, because we've got two federal laws that are contradictory.
 
"If we get a court with enough standing to rule on this, the impact is going to be significant."
 
There are more than 200 schools in the state, including 34 in the Southland, that are facing sanctions under the law only because of the performance of special education students.

TOP OF PAGE

Parents balk at pricey tablet PCs
Schools seek help with upgrade, but some worry about have, have-not schism
Angela Rozas and Claire Heininger,
Chicago Tribune
 
It was a lofty, but seemingly feasible plan: equip every student in two west suburban high schools with laptoplike computers called tablets within three years.
 
But
Hinsdale High School District 86 officials say the plan has hit a snag--they have no more money to buy the $2,200 computers. So school officials are hoping parents will pitch in and pick up the tab.
 
Some parents aren't so sure it is a good idea. Hinsdale Central in Hinsdale and Hinsdale South in Darien pull students from mostly affluent communities, but parents already have to pay for textbooks, which can run up to $500. And though many students and teachers have lauded the tablets' advantages--students can write on the computers, they can project their answers to the entire class and parents can keep track of their kids' work at home--some parents say they are not sure the cost is worth it.
 
"It's just another bill, which, to me, is just going too far," said Sherry Senyth, whose daughter, a junior, was assigned a tablet for a class during this year's trial program but "doesn't really even use it."
 
Some researchers also caution that encouraging parents to buy the equipment by saying it is needed to stay ahead of the technology curve could be misleading.
 
"It's setting up inequalities that need not exist," said Larry Cuban, professor emeritus of education at
Stanford University. "Schools should not be in the business of doing that."
 
Although some private schools and colleges have required students to have laptops, and some states like
Maine have even bought computers for entire grades of students, few public schools in the country have asked parents to foot the bill.
 
Those that have asked parents for help got mixed results. An affluent
Southern California school district dropped its plan last year after about 20 percent of the parents they approached balked at the expense.
 
"We just ran into this buzz saw from parents who thought it was discriminatory," said Del Mar Union School District Supt. Thomas Bishop. "They thought it would separate them into different economic classes. And they reminded the school board that not every parent has a spare $2,000."
 
Administrators in the
Hinsdale district started the tablet project two years ago, eventually introducing the wireless computers in five classrooms and providing them for all teachers as an alternative to replacing outdated desktop computers.
 
Assistant Supt. James Polzin said the project has seen some initial success, with students saying they like using the tablets and teachers saying they believe the students are more engaged and attentive.
 
"They're excited to be on the tablet, and sometimes forget that they're doing a math problem," said Hinsdale Central math teacher Bob Barber, who uses his tablet's color capabilities to illustrate problems during each class. "Right away you get a lot of interaction."
 
Yet some of the district's school board members, who voted 4-3 this week to support the voluntary Parent Buy Program, have concerns.
 
"What happens if parents buy this, and six months down the line it's cheaper? Or none of the other kids have them? Or a teacher doesn't really use them?" asked school board member Richard Skoda. "My real problem here is just the kids who are going to feel left out in class--how they'll feel about this."
 
Polzin said teachers will not give tablet assignments in classes in which students do not have the equipment. But he argues that some students still could benefit in working with others who do buy the computers or whose parents lease them.
 
Tom Ludovice, a Hinsdale Central biology and chemistry teacher, said tablets signaled an inevitable wave of the future, but feared that momentum would be slowed if a significant number of students cannot afford the upgrade.
 
"It's going to be hard if some kids have them and some kids don't," he said.
 
Hinsdale Central freshman Charlie Tarabour, 15, also feared the tablets could create a status divide.
 
"I can see how [the tablet plan] is good, but it could lead to sort of `the kids whose parents can afford them' and `the kids whose parents can't afford them,'" Tarabour said.
 
Cuban of Stanford said that though the future of one-to-one computer classrooms may be a reality, he sees it happening very slowly, and schools needn't rush to buy in. No studies have shown that having laptops actually improves test scores, he said. A school could accomplish the same technology goals by stocking technology carts, equipped with 30 laptops that teachers could move from room to room as needed, he said.
 
Besides the cost, some parents worry the tablets may break, get lost, be stolen or simply not used much.
 
Elaine Davis, mother of a 15-year-old freshman at Hinsdale Central, said she is hesitant to buy a tablet for her younger daughter, an incoming freshman. "I have a lot of questions that need to be answered," she said. "And I think that's a lot of responsibility for a 14-year-old to be carrying around."
 
What are tablet PCs?
- Portable computer, comparable with laptops.
- Detachable screen registers writing with a stylus.
- Wireless capailities for sharing notes and files.
- Cost: $2,200 (as specified by District 86).

TOP OF PAGE

Meeks kills his bill to revamp school funding
By Kristen McQueary, Daily Southtown Staff writer, 5/20/05
 
A day after leading a Statehouse rally to revamp school funding, state Sen. James Meeks decided Thursday to postpone a vote on his reform bill, effectively killing it for now.

"I took a tally and realized I don't have the votes on the Republican side," the Independent from
Chicago said. "I have votes on the Democratic side, but that's it."

Meeks wanted GOP support before calling the bill for a vote.

The legislation, House Bill 755, raises the individual income tax from 3 percent to 5 percent and includes property tax relief to more equitably fund education.

Schools in Meeks' own Senate district would have received an estimated $40 million in new revenue under the plan, according to data from the Illinois State Board of Education.

A Senate committee approved the bill earlier this month, marking a milestone for supporters of funding reform.

But concerns about the potential whack to constituents' wallets left Senate Republicans — and even some Democrats — opposed to the measure. State Sen. Rick Winkel (R-Champaign), a co-sponsor of the bill, was unable to corral any colleagues to his side, Meeks said.

"There are (senators) who can look at poverty-stricken districts, some of the worst schools are downstate, and turn their back on those schools and those children in order to embrace a political ideology," Meeks said. "That's mind-boggling."

In the Southland, most Democratic senators said they would support the bill, but some expressed doubts.

"In its current form, I would have a difficult time supporting it," said state Sen. A.J. Wilhelmi (D-Crest Hill), a newcomer who replaced Democrat Larry Walsh earlier this year. "I'm concerned about the underlying issue of finding a new way to fund education, but the tax increase is still significant."

Schools in Wilhelmi's district would have received nearly $45 million in new funding, the state board data showed.

While schools would have seen a windfall from the legislation, most residents and businesses would be hit with higher income taxes that would not necessarily be offset by a corresponding dip in property taxes.

According to Meeks, his colleagues who opposed the bill focused too much on how much it would cost taxpayers and not enough on how much schools would receive.

State Sen. Christine Radogno (R-Lemont) opposed the bill, even though estimates showed her schools would receive nearly $22 million.

"I am unwilling to continue to just put more money into education without reforming the education system," she said. "We have doubled the amount we've put into public schools in the past 10 years, and not much has changed.

"Achievement does not track spending in my district," she said. "New Lenox is low spending, high achieving, and others are low achieving and high spending."

Radogno suggested regionalized salary schedules for teachers and administrators as one way to revamp the system.

State Sen. Ed Petka (R-Plainfield) also opposed the bill. His schools, the data estimated, would have received $57 million.

Senate President Emil Jones (D-Chicago) made equitable funding his top priority of the spring session, which is scheduled to end next week.

The more palatable result, rather than a bill addressing equity, appears to be legislation creating more slots at existing casinos to raise more money for schools.

Meeks said he would spend the summer letting
Illinois residents know "how much money their senators turned down by not being a part of the bill." He said he would revive the bill during the fall veto session or next spring.
 
TOP OF PAGE

School adds sexual bias to banned behavior
By Lanier Frush Holt, Tribune staff reporter,
5/20/05

In light of a gay rights T-shirt campaign, the Homewood-Flossmoor High School District 233 board this week unanimously agreed to expand the notice of discrimination in its parent-student handbook to include sexual orientation.

The two-word addendum will give the district of more than 3,000 students leverage in disciplining them and faculty who discriminate based on sexual orientation. Discipline will be doled out on a case-by-case basis, officials said.

"Nothing has been laid out," said David Thieman, district spokesman. "There are a million different scenarios. Discrimination comes in a lot of different forms."

A month ago, more than 200 students wore T-shirts reading "gay? Fine by me" to school as part of a campaign for tolerance.

Other students responded with shirts that read, "Crimes committed against God" on the front and "discrimination against ... my 10 Commandments, my prayers, my values, my faith, my God." The 1st Amendment, which promotes freedom of speech and religion, also was printed on those shirts.

A few students who had worn the gay rights shirts addressed the board last month to ask for the amendment to the student-parent handbook.

Homewood-Flossmoor "wants to emulate other high schools that are academically comparable and a lot of them have it," said senior Jamison Liang, who helped organize the T-shirt campaign.

Senior Alissa Norby said school security guards ignored her and other students' pleas for help when they were being harassed for wearing pro-gay lifestyle shirts. She doubts the addition will make any real difference.

"I knew the policy officially went through, but unofficially I don't think much will change," she said. "We [already] have a non-discrimination policy that talks about religion and gender and people get made fun of every day for that at our school. I would really be surprised and shocked if a teacher or staff member did something about it based on sexual orientation."

The district plans to implement the change in the fall.
 
TOP OF PAGE

Teacher uses radioactivity to spark interest in physics
Neuqua Valley High gets federal grant to buy low-level samples
By Ken O'Brien, Special to the Tribune,
5/20/05

Physics teacher Michael Kennedy is taking his students at
Neuqua Valley High School in Naperville beyond the glow--and misconceptions--of radioactivity.

This week, Kennedy is devoting several days to studying radioactivity with his five advanced science classes. Some of the students, he said, might benefit from lessons on radiation when they start studying engineering or medicine in college.

Last summer, Kennedy got a $6,743 grant from the U.S. Department of Energy to teach the radioactivity unit. Though the school had the Geiger counters and computers necessary for the unit, the grant helped pay for low-level radioactive samples and shields to cover samples.

"One of the things that I find from people is that they don't have a good idea what radiation is and they tend to fear it without almost knowing anything about it," Kennedy said Wednesday.

"We don't talk about the uses of it in our everyday lives. I'd like to educate my students about radiation, get them more comfortable with it and get them to respect it."

On Monday, Rock Acker of Naperville, who has worked in and around nuclear power plants in
Illinois, spoke to Kennedy's classes. On Wednesday, the students used a Geiger counter to check radiation levels on low-level samples.

On Thursday, the students did another round of experiments to learn about
Newton's Inverse Square Law, a principle that expresses the way radiant energy travels through space.

On Friday, they are to make isotopes with a half-life of a few minutes.

"These students in their chemistry classes have already had an exposure to the theoretical side of this," Kennedy explained. "They have studied the types of radiation and now they are going to get a hands-on experience, which is what will help them to remember."

On Wednesday, Kennedy started the lesson with his 6th-period class, which has 21 students, by turning on a Geiger counter. He said the ripple of sound from the counter represented the background radiation in the room.

He then placed the counter next to a plate and a smoke detector, and told the students that the increased sound meant that those items have more radioactivity than what was present in the room.

The students then worked in small groups at a computer, which was connected to a Geiger counter, to measure alpha, beta and gamma samples. After measuring the counts by the second and by the minute, the students placed a shield of aluminum, followed by lead and plastic, between the sample and the Geiger counter.

The students determined that it was easier for the gamma particles to go through the shields for several reasons, including that they are smaller and have no mass.

Senior Jason Filip said the unit was helpful.

"I had never thought about radioactivity before," he said. "People think nuclear power plants and immediately think explosion, but they are as safe as possible."
 
TOP OF PAGE

Illinois should mandate kindergarten for children
Rockford Register Star Editorial, 5/20/05

For people who remember naps and snacks as the mainstays of kindergarten, it's hard to envision a 5-year-old as truant.

Vivian Hickey can. At age 89 that makes her more modern -- and foresighted -- than many people half her age.

Hickey, the former Democratic state senator from
Rockford, wanted to hold parents responsible for their children enrolled in kindergarten or first grade. Hickey heard enough stories about truancy and late arrivals. She decided to influence legislation and found a champion in state Sen. Brad Burzynski. Burzynski agreed to introduce bills on the issue twice last year, even though he's in the opposite party. Neither measure came to a vote.

Hickey wisely switched strategies. She now supports legislation by Sen. Kwame Raoul, D-Chicago. His bill takes the first logical step, which is to lower mandatory school attendance to age 5 from the current age of 7. After all, a child shouldn't be called truant until he or she is required to be in school.

Raoul's bill passed the Senate 30-25. It was heard twice in a House committee this week, but its sponsor, Rep. Edward Acevedo, D-Chicago, didn't believe he had enough votes to pass the bill. The House and Senate sponsors will meet with opponents and try to reach a compromise.

What's to oppose? Under the bill, parents who don't think their children are ready for school at 5 can opt out for another year.

We strongly support mandatory kindergarten. There is something goofy about a state that devotes precious funds to early education, or prekindergarten, for 3- and 4-year-olds ($214 million this year) and doesn't mandate kindergarten a year or two later.

Gone are the days when kindergarten was a "socialization" year; today's kindergartners learn to read and write and do math. Gone are the days when lessons were limited to learning colors by finger painting and learning shapes by playing with wood blocks. That's not rushing childhood. It's just reality.

Home-schooling groups don't like mandatory kindergarten. They say it makes a child subject to the state's jurisdiction longer. Vanessa Mangione of the Home School Legal Defense Association said, "It's an infringement on parents' rights in general."

For parents who home-school, we don't see what difference it makes. They can opt out now; with mandatory kindergarten, they would just opt out earlier.

We can't explain Burzynski's opposition, either. He voted no on mandatory kindergarten. If he liked Hickey's idea of extending truancy rules to kids younger than 7, what could possibly be wrong with making them attend school in the first place?

The foundation for Child Development, a private, not-for-profit group, says kindergarten deserves more attention from states. "Kindergarten suffers from the middle child syndrome, caught between early childhood education and compulsory public education," writes Sara Vecchiotti in a research paper for the foundation in 2001.

Children who do not attend school until 7 lag behind their peers. Research shows that if children are not proficient in reading by age 8, they can face a lifetime of educational deficits. That's a lot of ground to cover in one short year.

By refusing to mandate kindergarten, lawmakers may believe they are letting kids be kids -- allowing a last gasp of freedom before alarm clocks and teachers rule their lives.

That leniency is a luxury kids can't afford. Vivian Hickey doesn't long for the good old days. We shouldn't either.
 
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NATIONAL

School buses are still safest way to school
Trisha Howard and Heather Ratcliffe,
St. Louis Post-Dispatch
 
As Don Mayse and a fellow parent followed their fifth-graders on a field trip last week to
Hannibal, Mo., talk turned to the rash of school bus crashes in the news.
 
"There's been a fair number of these bus accidents recently," Mayse recalls saying.
 
Mayse couldn't have known that his daughter's bus would join that number Thursday afternoon, when it was struck by a freight train in
Hannibal. None of the 33 children from Wentzville's Heritage Intermediate School or their bus driver suffered serious injuries, but the train sheared off the rear end of the bus.
 
"We were talking about this happening, and then it did," Mayse said. "It's just odd."
 
School bus crashes happen far more frequently than most people realize: an average of six a day in
Illinois, nearly four a day in Missouri, according to traffic crash reports from 2003, the most recent statistics available.
 
If those same numbers were spread over a typical 175-day school year, the figures would be even higher: 13 a day in
Illinois, eight a day in Missouri.
 
And if that sounds amazing, consider this. In both states, only one of the more than 3,700 crashes that year - from fender-benders to head-on collisions - resulted in a student death. In both states, crashes involving school buses made up less than 1 percent of all crashes statewide.
 
"Travel by school bus is one of the safest modes of highway transportation," said Eric Bolton, a spokesman for the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. "It would be a mistake for parents to take their kids off a school bus and take them to school in a car or let them drive or walk or bike to school. All those are statistically more dangerous than riding in a school bus, by far."
 
The safety agency concluded in a 2002 report that students were nearly eight times safer riding in a school bus than with their parents or guardians in cars.
 
The number of injuries in
Missouri has been declining steadily since 1995, when police recorded nearly 400 fatal and injury crashes involving school buses. In 2003, those crashes numbered 260.
Spring seems to be a peak time for crashes because so many schools send students on field trips, increasing bus traffic, several experts said.
 
The most frequent causes of school bus crashes include speeding, following too closely and failure to yield.
 
But inattention is the biggest problem, whether blame lies with the school bus driver or other drivers. In 2003,
Missouri authorities cited that reason in 35 percent of cases.
 
Kevin Orzechowski, Laidlaw Transit Inc.'s regional director of driver development and safety, said more than half of the company's crashes weren't the bus driver's fault.
 
"How people can't see a big, yellow school bus - but they run into us all the time," Orzechowski said. "We're standing still, and people are running into the back of us."
 
When collisions do happen, students usually escape injuries because they sit higher above the roadway and don't bear the brunt force of the impact, police said.
 
"Generally the more serious injury is going to be in whatever vehicle hits them," said Sgt. James Mundel, commander of the
St. Louis County police Highway Safety Team.
 
That was the case in the fatal crash earlier this year when a school bus hit a minivan on Highway 40 (Interstate 64). An 11-year-old
Illinois girl and a family friend were killed in the minivan.
 
It happened again early last week, when a
Liberty, Mo., bus driver plowed into two vehicles at a busy intersection. The drivers of those two vehicles were killed; all of the 23 students aboard the bus survived, although two were hospitalized.
 
That students almost always survive such crashes is a tribute to ongoing improvements in the design of school buses, said Robin Leeds, an industry specialist with the National School Transportation Association. The government and the bus industry have worked for years to make buses some of the safest vehicles on the road, with seats designed to minimize injury and steel cages built to protect passengers even in roll-over crashes, Leeds said.
 
"Unfortunately, there are some catastrophic crashes where people in the impact zone are not going to survive,"
Leeds said. "But as tragic as that is, we should put that in perspective with the 33 kids whose bus got hit by a train, and no one is hurt."

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Oregon teen gets detention for hugging her boyfriend
AP, 5/17/05
 
BEND, Ore. -- A 14-year-old girl received detention over a lingering hug she gave her boyfriend at school, infuriating her mother and putting school officials on the defensive.
 
School officials said they had warned Cazz Altomare that lingering hugging was unacceptable, but she continued to disobey the rule when she received the detention earlier this year.
 
'It's not like we are the hug Nazis'
 
Rules at
Sky View Middle School in Bend permit "quick hello and goodbye hugs," but administrators said some students have been taking advantage of it.
 
"It's not like we are the hug Nazis," Laurie Gould, spokeswoman for the
Bend-La Pine School District, said Monday. "Kids hug, they hug hello and they hug goodbye, but if you take it farther, you make people uncomfortable."
 
Cazz got detention after giving her boyfriend a protracted hug in the hallway at
Sky View Middle School in Bend.
 
Her mother, Leslee Swanson, was infuriated by the punishment. When she went to pick her daughter up from detention, she gave her a good, hard hug.
 
"I'm trying to understand what's wrong with a hug," Swanson, 42, said in a story Sunday in the Bulletin of Bend. People should not "blindly accept these fundamental rights being taken away from them," she said.
 
Gould said "usually kids don't get detention just for hugging."
 
All middle schools in the Bend-La Pine district restrict hugging to some degree, as well as hand-holding and some other forms of physical affection.
 
"Really, all we're trying to do is create an environment that's focused on learning, and learning proper manners is part of that," said Dave Haack, the principal of
Cascade Middle School in Bend.
 
Students only end up with detention after repeated warnings, he said.

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Plan gives classrooms 65 percent of funds
By Mark P. Couch,
Denver Post Staff Writer, 5/17/05

House Minority Leader Joe Stengel wants
Colorado voters to consider a national conservative-backed measure to increase classroom spending by diverting money from buses, buildings and lunches.

Stengel, R-Littleton, said he and several other Colorado Republicans will announce today their plan to require school districts to spend 65 percent of their funding on teacher salaries and other classroom expenses.

The group aims to gather the 67,829 signatures needed to put the measure on the ballot in November 2006. Earlier this month, House Democrats killed a Stengel-backed resolution that would have put the issue on the ballot without the petitions.

"The districts that perform the worst are spending the least in the classroom," Stengel said. "I think there's a correlation there."

The movement is being pushed in several   states, including
Arizona, Louisiana and Minnesota, by a group called First Class Education, which is backed primarily by Patrick Byrne, the multimillionaire chairman of Overstock.com Inc.

According to numbers compiled by that group,
Colorado's school districts spend 57.8 percent of their money on instruction. Denver Public Schools spent 54 percent of its funding in classrooms in 2002-03, First Class
  
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Seattle tries to restrict vending near schools
By Jim Brunner, Seattle Times staff reporter, 5/17/05
 
Hoping to discourage back-of-the-van pizza peddlers from luring school kids with their greasy but delicious wares, the Seattle City Council yesterday voted to ban mobile vendors within 1,000 feet of public schools.

Though council members cited concerns about childhood obesity, the action came at the request of the union representing school-cafeteria workers, whose pay and benefits are linked to the number of meals served each day.

The ordinance, approved 7-0, and supported by five School Board members, expands the no-vending zone around schools from the current 200 feet.

"At a minimum, they'll have to walk some of the calories off," said Councilman Richard Conlin.

The prohibition is largely symbolic since vendors who operate around schools often don't have the required city permits and could be cited under current ordinances, said David Westberg, business manager for Operating Engineers Local 609, which represents 300 school-cafeteria workers.

But Westberg said city officials have failed to cite some of the vendors despite repeated complaints. "If one of them ever actually got fined, I believe this activity would stop," he said.

Vendors selling pizza and other meals out of vans or trucks have been most prevalent around schools in
South Seattle, including Franklin and Cleveland high schools, Westberg said. A pizza vendor who has been the subject of numerous complaints was spotted again yesterday near Cleveland High School, he said.

To adhere to new health-conscious guidelines,
Seattle schools now serve leaner foods and have eliminated sugary and caffeinated drinks. The change has led some kids to leave campus in pursuit of the fat and sugar they crave.

It's not clear the council action against a few mobile vendors will have much effect on urban schools within easy walking distance of minimarts and fast-food restaurants, which will not be affected by the restrictions approved yesterday.

At
Franklin High School, none of the street vendors appeared to be operating yesterday. But knots of students walked to nearby stores to buy meals of burritos, sodas and chips.

"Really nobody eats in the lunchroom," said Aiko Taylor, a sophomore whose lunch consisted of a bag of cheese-flavored popcorn and a Sunny Delight orange-flavored drink.

Taylor and other students said the school had chased away some vendors who used to operate nearby, including a man who sold pizza and breadsticks out of the back of his truck. The pizza man had been a big draw.

"The school lunch is cold. It's not that good," said Julie Mandefero, a junior munching on a bag of Doritos.

Westberg admitted the city may not be able to do much to undo kids' disdain for cafeteria food. Still, he said, it was important for officials to take any actions they could.

"We're not trying to stifle free enterprise, we're just trying to stop illegal activity," Westberg said.
 
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'Mobile' students stress already-strained schools
Betty Reid, The
Arizona Republic, 5/17/05

Principal Armando Chavez predicted last October that nearly half of the third-graders in teacher Nelly Duran's class would be gone by the end of the school year.

Chavez, in charge of
P.T. Coe School in the Isaac Elementary School District, knew big changes were in store; they almost always are in Isaac's classrooms.

Of the 31 students who were in Duran's class at one time or another, only 19 were there all year. advertisement 
 
Even with a dozen "mobile" students, or 39 percent of the class, Chavez said this was one of his more stable classes. "I predicted 50 percent (for this class); that's why I'm not a gambling man," Chavez said.

Constant movement by students challenges teachers and curriculum administrators as they attempt to meet state test requirements. "I think it's just a trend that we prepare ourselves for, knowing that is our clientele, knowing that our teachers have to deal with," Chavez said.

National statistics gathered about student mobility by the Education Resources Information Center Clearinghouse on Urban Education in December 2003 found that urban schools reported a mobility rate as low as 40 percent and as high as 80 percent. Its research also found that students moved six or more times between their kindergarten and high school years.

The district's overall student mobility was 43.3 percent in spring 2004; P.T. Coe's rate was 46.2 percent.

The Isaac district has 12 schools and is in near west
Phoenix. The vast majority of its 8,822 students are Hispanic. Coe is a K-5 campus at 3801 W. Roanoke.

Chavez figures student mobility by counting students who leave, new kids who enter a classroom and former students who return to the same classroom.

Of the students who left the picture from Duran's class, the principal discovered that many of them were from what he called the district's traditional families, who have lived in one place for decades.

"It's not the Hispanic kid going back to
Mexico," Chavez said. "There's another variable in there; it's an economic transition. Some of them are our stronger families here at Coe. They are the traditionalizing families and now are moving to some new housing development in the West Valley."

Mobile kids often come with varied faces and backgrounds. In addition to the families moving to the edges of the Valley, they are children of migrant workers, immigrant families or military families. They could be kids caught in the middle of domestic violence, in families with unstable work situations or in homes affected by poverty.

The most difficult job, when dealing with student mobility, is that of an instructor. Duran is no exception.

"I had one (student) who is not in the picture who came in at third quarter (January) and he is at second-grade level, and we are all ready to work with fourth-grade math," Duran said.
 
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Parents want address checks for schools
Those near
Detroit seek crackdown on outsiders 
BY PEGGY WALSH-SARNECKI and TERESA MASK,
Detroit Free Press Education Writers, 5/17/05

Parents on either side of the
Detroit border have one thing in common: They want the best education for their kids.

That's why some
Detroit parents are enrolling their children illegally in neighboring districts such as Grosse Pointe and Southfield. And that's why some suburban parents are demanding that school officials do more to keep out students who don't live within their district's boundaries.

The problem has boiled over in Grosse Pointe in recent weeks. A coalition of parents presented about 3,000 signatures to the school board this month asking it to take steps this summer to re-verify every student's address.

School officials say it's not a new problem, and not as big a problem as parents claim. The school board president even suggested the problem was that Grosse Pointe is a community that may not be dealing well with a growing number of African-American students.

"Frankly, this is a community that is very uncomfortable with diversity, and as we become more diverse, that's a real stretch in Grosse Pointe," Joan Richardson said. The parents who are asking for greater scrutiny say it's simply not fair for those from outside the community to use the limited resources and money designated for schools.

"Our schools are reserved for the people who live here," said Chris Cullen, who has four children in Grosse Pointe schools. "You pay to live in these communities, and you pay taxes that are going up and up. What you get in return are access to parks and schools."

Cullen said no one is targeting Detroiters, adding that parents from Eastpointe,
Roseville and St. Clair Shores also try to enroll their children in Grosse Pointe schools.

Chris Fenton, the school district's business manager, said having students in the district illegally is an old problem that has escalated slightly in recent years.

This year, the district has received about 130 complaints, 30 or 40 more than in past years.

So far, 30 students have been asked to leave. About 30 percent of those were black, Fenton said. Another 46 were verified as living in the district. About half of those students were black.

Overall, Grosse Pointe Public Schools are about 6% black. Fenton said he did not know the race of the remaining students who are still being investigated.

The biggest problems are students who stay after a residential lease has expired and families who enroll more students than are listed on their lease.

Doug Ulmer of
Grosse Pointe Woods argues that race isn't the issue.

"Two things attract you to Grosse Pointe: the water and the schools," Ulmer said. "Now you're starting to see houses going up for sale, you're starting to hear that test scores may be dropping at a couple of schools.

"They're not picking on any nationality and they're not picking on race," Ulmer said. "You're asking everybody in the school system to do exactly the same things as everybody else. There are no race lines there."

Illegally enrolled students are not just a problem in Grosse Pointe.
Harper Woods cracked down on nonresidents last summer, turning away about 100 students.

School officials sent out a four-page explanation to district parents titled, "Maintaining a Closed District Without Appearing to be Closed-minded."

"Everybody has that problem," said Harper Woods Superintendent Dan Danoski. "But I think it's bigger in the eyes of the community than it is for us."

Wait-and-see approach

The district no longer gives parents an immediate answer on whether their child will be enrolled, waiting for an investigation to be complete.

In some isolated cases, school officials even asked to see inside closets to make sure students actually live in the house.

"We're not trying to make people who are legitimately here feel that we don't trust them, because we do," Danoski said. "It's a fine line that we walk."

Mostly because of citizen-driven complaints, the
Southfield school district has stepped up its investigation of tips about illegal students, said school board president Paul Cooper.

However, the district opens its doors to other
Oakland County students in various elementary grades, Cooper said, adding that Detroit and other Wayne County schools have been omitted because Southfield personnel are "able to fill our ranks with Oakland County students."

The Ferndale Public Schools also decided, in 2000, to allow
Oakland County students outside the district into their schools. Even so, there still are those who try to sneak in using false addresses. When the district is tipped off, there is an investigation.

Now, the district might be ending the program.

"The board has decided ... to phase out school of choice altogether" over the next several years, said Stephanie Smith Hall, a district spokeswoman.

She said that like
Southfield, the district will allow students who live outside the district in some of their schools that have low enrollment.

Grosse Pointe schools will tighten up its residency restrictions next year,
Richardson said. New students will register at the central office, instead of at schools. But the request to re-verify every student in the district is just not practical, she said.

"For what really is a very small problem, I think it's like using a
Sherman tank to kill a gnat."
 
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Lawmakers see limited federal role in high school changes
By Lolita C. Baldor, Associated Press Writer,
5/17/05  

WASHINGTON -- Efforts to improve the nation's high schools should focus on voluntary programs rather than on expanding education legislation passed during President Bush's first term, members of a congressional committee suggested Tuesday.
 
Bush wants to expand required testing in high schools as a way to measure whether student performance is improving.

Members of the House Education and Workforce Committee questioned whether the timing was right to expand the No Child Left Behind law, even as they acknowledged that American high schools are not keeping pace with other countries and that many students leave school unprepared.

"I'm not sure we're ready to require states to do more under No Child Left Behind at a time when some are still seeking, unfortunately, to do less," said committee Chairman John Boehner, R-Ohio.

The committee heard from two governors, Mitt Romney of Massachusetts and Thomas Vilsack of
Iowa, who have divergent views on the role of expanded testing in the possible changes.

Vilsack said
Iowa has had success negotiating teacher incentives, including minimum salaries, mentoring programs, mandatory evaluations and professional development plans.

"Although most high schools across
America may agree on why they need to change and what they need to change, we must not attempt a one-size-fits-all solution for high school reform," said Vilsack.

But Romney said he has had less success working with teacher unions to set up performance-based pay and other teaching changes. Schools, he said, need to pay better teachers more money, and bad teachers less, and those who agree to mentor others should be paid for it.

Romney, a Republican, supported the expansion of No Child Left Behind, saying there should be similar testing throughout high school, particularly in science.

Bush wants to require state reading and math tests in grades three through 11. That would broaden No Child Left Behind, which requires one year of state testing during grades 10 to 12.

"Testing doesn't cost that much," Romney told the committee. "We don't look to the federal government to take over, but help set bench marks so we can tell how we're performing."

The tests, he said, help the state better understand the differences between school districts, and between schools within each district so that particular problems can be addressed. And he said test scores began to improve dramatically when they counted toward graduation.

Romney added that he does not believe the No Child Left Behind law put an unfair fiscal burden on the state, adding that
Massachusetts was doing much of the testing before the law passed.

But Sen. Edward M. Kennedy, D-Mass., ranking Democrat on the Senate education panel, said every school district in the state has seen a cut in federal funding under the new law.

"They're being asked to do more under the No Child Left Behind Act this year, yet they're getting less help to do it," Kennedy said. "Reforms are essential, but they'll never happen unless schools and communities have the funds to do it."

Romney said he has not talked to Kennedy about the issue.

Vilsack, a Democrat, said another problem is that high school seniors tend to waste as much as half of their final year, concentrating more on proms and football games than studies. He said
Iowa is working to encourage more coordination with local community colleges so seniors can take college classes.

"We would do well to defer to what the governors are doing," said Rep. George Miller, D-Calif., adding that to force states to meet new requirements for high school without providing sufficient resources would mean "big time trouble."
 
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Public schools, private billions and the best of intentions
AP, 5/17/05

SEATTLE, Washington -- Bill Gates raised some hackles with his withering assessment of American high schools, but at least the billionaire founder of Microsoft is putting his money where his mouth is.

The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation has invested $2.3 billion since 2000 in new visions of education, with smaller schools and more personalized instruction to prepare young people for the working world and post-high school learning.

The foundation has programs in 42 states and the
District of Columbia; it supports more than 1,500 high schools -- about half totally new and the others redesigned. Its three scholarship programs, designed to fill tuition gaps left by other grants and aid, have assisted more than 10,000 students.

At one of its schools, the
Truman Center in Federal Way, about 20 miles south of Seattle, 12 teacher/advisers tend 208 students -- helping them figure out what they care about and how to pursue it. Two days a week are set aside for job-shadowing and internships in the real world.

Shawn Dube was going nowhere in 2001 when he transferred to Truman, one of 16 schools in the state being transformed with a five-year grant and scholarships from the Gates Foundation's Achiever program.

"It was kind of a last-resort thing that I was there," recalls Dube, now 18.

An internship at an upscale local restaurant put Dube on his path. He found a mentor, eagerly honed his skills and is now a first-year student at the Culinary Institute of America in
Hyde Park, New York. He plans a stint in France and dreams of a restaurant of his own.

Shawn's mom, Kim Dube, credits the Gates program with giving Shawn the confidence to chase his dream and scholarships to finance it.

"My husband and I didn't go to college," Kim says. "It just got him past that fear."

Since 2000, the education branch of the Gates Foundation has been working to upgrade the nation's high schools, which Gates characterized as "obsolete" in a February speech to the National Governors Association.

Rigor, relevance, relationships

In that speech, he spelled out his "new three R's" for building better high schools:

Rigor: Making sure all students are given a challenging curriculum that prepares them for college or work.

Relevance: Making sure kids have courses and projects that relate to their lives and their goals.

Relationships: Making sure kids have adults who know them, look out for them, and push them to achieve.

"The idea is that every district should have a rigorous academic alternative for kids who do not succeed in the traditional high school setting," said Gates Foundation spokeswoman Marie Groark.

Such alternatives don't come cheap. And with states struggling to pay for basic education and keep up federal accountability requirements -- what happens when the five-year grants expire?

"If you don't get a commitment from the school district to continue, it's just an exercise you go through," said Leon Horne, a middle-school teacher and former union leader in
Tacoma.

The foundation's intent with the grants is to get the ball rolling by demonstrating alternatives that work, Groark said. "Our goal for all our work is sustainability -- that we can disappear."

Followup and monitoring will be essential, said Shirley Malcom, head of education and human resources at the American Association for the Advancement of Science in
Washington, D.C.

"The big question is the learning goals," Malcom said. "What is it we want these children to know? ... Are they going to be job-ready, and are they going to be college-ready?"

New tests, mandated by federal law, are designed to help assess student progress.

Innovation from the inside

The sustainability of the foundation's work will depend on whether it fosters innovation from inside or tries to impose it from outside, Malcom said. School districts will be more likely to support -- and help spread -- innovations developed within schools and communities.

That's a belief the foundation shares.

"When we give a grant, we give it because the community wants it and asks for it," Groark said. "It's not the Gates Foundation telling the community to do something. It's the Gates Foundation supporting work that's already begun."

There's no question that most high schools don't work, Malcom said. But the structure is very difficult to break down for various reasons, including the often massive size of the buildings themselves.

Creating small schools, usually schools within schools, has been a fundamental part of the foundation's approach.

The
Truman Center, for example, has just six classrooms -- crammed with projects, art, words of wisdom. "Quiet rooms" are set aside for those who need to concentrate. The only doors are on the bathrooms and to the outdoors.

"Our high schools were designed fifty years ago to meet the needs of another age," Gates told the governors in February.

"Until we design them to meet the needs of the 21st century, we will keep limiting -- even ruining -- the lives of millions of Americans every year," said Gates, himself a product of the rigorous standards and hands-on instruction at
Seattle's private Lakeside School.

"Only one-third of our students graduate from high school ready for college, work, and citizenship," he said. "The other two-thirds, most of them low-income and minority students, are tracked into courses that won't ever get them ready for college or prepare them for a family-wage job, no matter how well the students learn or the teachers teach."

Hands-on approach

Despite his position atop one of the world's biggest technology companies, high-tech education reforms have been a small part of the foundation's work. Online schools are the subject of just two grants, totaling less than $3 million.

The foundation's education wing has a staff of about three dozen, eight or nine of whom monitor grant recipients.

At Truman, school officials write frequent reports to keep the foundation up to date, and foundation officials make yearly visits, said Principal Judy Kraft.

The foundation gets points from educators and observers for its hands-on approach.

"Their staffers are engaged in ways other funders are not engaged, in part because their staff comes from the education field. They're not heavy-handed at all," says Patricia Sullivan at the Center for Education Policy in
Washington, D.C., which receives some funding from the Gates Foundation.

That's not to say all goes smoothly on foundation projects. In Tacoma, teacher Horne said, it took three years to work out union concerns and get teachers set up for foundation programs at three of the city's five high schools, a year longer than the usual training phase.

"I don't think they'd really thought the whole thing through," said Horne, who suggested the program's test run in
Tacoma might have been more effectively conducted at a single school.

He also noted that the foundation's vision -- of one teacher/adviser overseeing a small class throughout high school while teaching most subjects -- seems to clash with the federal No Child Left Behind law, which calls for teachers with high expertise in specific subjects.

Still, across
Washington state, where the foundation is based, it is generally acknowledged as a positive force, said Charles Hasse, president of the teachers union, the Washington Education Association.

Although teachers sometimes bristle at guidance from outsiders, he said, "the people at the foundation are seen as partners at improving education and essentially allies of classroom teachers."
 
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Kansas looks at redefining science
AP,
5/15/05  
 
TOPEKA, Kansas -- The Kansas school board's hearings on evolution were not limited to how the theory should be taught in public schools. The board is considering redefining science itself.

Advocates of "intelligent design" are pushing the board to reject a definition limiting science to natural explanations for what's observed in the world.

Instead, they want to define it as "a systematic method of continuing investigation," without specifying what kind of answer is being sought. The definition would appear in the introduction to the state's science standards.

The proposed definition has outraged many scientists, who are frustrated that students could be discussing supernatural explanations for natural phenomena in their science classes.

"It's a completely unscientific way of looking at the world," said Keith Miller, a
Kansas State University geologist.

The conservative state Board of Education plans to consider the proposed changes by August. It is expected to approve at least part of a proposal from advocates of intelligent design, which holds that the natural world is so complex and well-ordered that an intelligent cause is the best way to explain it.

State and national science groups boycotted last week's public hearings, claiming they were rigged against evolution.

Stephen Meyer, a senior fellow at the Seattle-based Discovery Institute, which supports intelligent design, said changing the schools' definition of science would avoid freezing out questions about how life arose and developed on Earth.

The current definition is "not innocuous," Meyer said. "It's not neutral. It's actually taking sides."

Last year, the board asked a committee of educators to draft recommendations for updating the standards, then accepted two rival proposals.

One, backed by a majority of those educators, continues an evolution-friendly tone from the current standards. Those standards would define science as "a human activity of systematically seeking natural explanations for what we observe in the world around us." That's close to the current definition.

The other proposal is backed by intelligent design advocates and is similar to language in
Ohio's standards. It defines science as "a systematic method of continuing investigation" using observation, experiment, measurement, theory building, testing of ideas and logical argument to lead to better explanations of natural phenomena.

The
Kansas board deleted most references to evolution from the science standards in 1999, but elections the next year resulted in a less conservative board, which led to the current, evolution-friendly standards. Conservatives recaptured the board's majority in 2004.

Jonathan Wells, a Discovery Institute senior fellow, said the dispute won't be settled in public hearings like the ones in
Kansas.

"I think it will be resolved in the scientific community," he said. "I think (intelligent design), in 10 years, will be a very respectable science program."

Evolution defenders scoff at the notion.

"In order to live in this science-dominated world, you have to be able to discriminate between science and non-science," said Alan Leshner of the American Association for the Advancement of Science. "They want to rewrite the rules of science."
 
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Florida gets OK to recalculate NCLB progress
By Greg Giles, Venice Gondolier Staff writer, 5/18/05

Florida Education Commissioner John Winn received good news this week from United States Secretary of Education Margaret Spellings. Spellings granted
Florida two No Child Left Behind Plan amendments to give the state additional flexibility in calculating the progress of Florida students.

The recalculations instantly more than double the number of schools in
Florida that make Adequate Yearly Progress under federal law, according to the Florida Department of Education.

The department estimates adopting the two amendments will likely increase the number of schools that make AYP from 331 to 788 -- an estimated increase of 457 schools.

Sarasota County school officials are in the process of determining the number of schools that will benefit under the new rules.

The Florida Department of Education is still negotiating with USDOE about a third NCLB amendment and hopes to receive approval in the next few weeks, said department officials.

The amendments were supported by the Florida School Boards Association and the Sarasota County School Board in an effort to align the state's A+ plan with NCLB.

Proficiency

One of the adopted amendments revises proficiency targets for reading and math. It allows school districts to make slower gains in the short term, until the 2008-09 school year when gains would need to exceed current federal targets in order to meet the 100 percent target. By 2013 100 percent of schools are expected to meet adequate yearly progress.

Current NCLB rules expect 48 percent of
Florida schools to make adequate yearly progress in reading, and a similar figure in math, for the next three years running. Every fourth year the percentage of schools expected to meet AYP is increased by roughly 17 percent. Under the new plan Florida can now meet a gradual, annual increase of 7 percent.

Subgroups

The second amendment adopted by USDOE revises the subgroup calculation, in effect reducing the number of subgroups in each school that might fail to meet AYP. Any one subgroup that fails to meet proficiency fails the entire school under NCLB rules.

The amendment maintains the current subgroup size of 30 students (subgroups include low-income students, minority students, special education and others), but it must represent 15 percent of the total school population under the proposal before the performance of the subgroup would be counted toward the school's rating.

Learning gains

A third amendment still under consideration replaces the current "safe harbor" measure with a "learning gains" measure as an alternative way to meet AYP.

The safe harbor measure is similar to giving extra credit for a subgroup that is not at a level considered proficient but that has showed learning gains.

The new model scraps the complicated safe harbor calculation and instead would judge subgroups purely on a simpler, more school-friendly learning gains calculation (the percent increase in proficiency for a given subgroup from one year to the next).

In essence, more schools are able to show they improved over the previous year than can show they meet proficiency targets.

"We believe that learning gains will become the national norm within five years, and
Florida should lead the way," Winn said earlier.

Upon approval, another 194 schools would meet AYP by using the new "learning gains" calculation.
  
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NCLB change likely no help
MICHAEL BARBER,
Bradenton Herald Staff Writer, 5/18/05

MANATEE - While local school officials scrambled Tuesday to learn how changes to the No Child Left Behind would affect
Manatee County schools, one local principal said the changes don't go far enough.

"I don't think it would help our school," said Rowlett Elementary Principal Brian Flynn. "I don't think it would help most of the schools being sanctioned by NCLB. The schools being sanctioned by NCLB are all Title I schools, meaning they deal with more diverse student populations and more at-risk students."

Flynn's comments came a day after U.S. Education Secretary Margaret Spellings announced
Florida will receive additional leeway when it comes to NCLB.

Carla Frazier, director of testing for the Manatee County School Board, said she is still trying to obtain information from the Florida Department of Education to determine exactly how the changes will affect the county.

The additional leeway applies to two specific aspects of the NCLB measurement process.

First, the size of subgroups measured under the act must now represent at least 15 percent of the total school population to be considered as part of a school's rating.

Under NCLB, every school is broken into subgroups of students by race, socioeconomic status, English-speaking ability and students with disabilities. Each subgroup must get a passing mark for a school to make adequate yearly progress.

The size of subgroups from state to state is controversial. In
Florida, a subgroup consists of 30 students, where in most other states, subgroups are considerably larger.

Critics of NCLB in
Florida say the small subgroup size makes it more difficult for schools to achieve adequate yearly progress.

"We were hoping they'd raise the subgroup size to 50," said Samoset Principal Scott Boyes. "In
Texas, a subgroup has to be 100 students to be accountable. If they raised our subgroups to 50 it would help us."

The second area of leeway extended by Spelling to
Florida gives schools additional time to meet stringent performance goals established under NCLB.

Original NCLB guidelines indicated 48 percent of a school's population had to register as proficient on the Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test this year for a school to achieve adequate yearly progress. To achieve proficiency, a student needs to score Level 3 or above on the five levels of FCAT scoring.

FCAT scores are placed in five different levels, with Level 1 being the lowest and Level 5 the highest. Students who perform at Level 3 or higher are considered to be working at grade level.

Under the new flexibility, only 37 percent of
Florida students will have to register Level 3 or above this year for a school to make adequate yearly progress.

All students in
Florida and across the country are expected to be at grade level by 2014.

While almost all public schools in
Florida are measured under NCLB guidelines, only Title I schools are subject to sanctions under the system. Title I schools receive federal funding because 75 percent or more of the students at those schools qualify for free or reduced-priced lunches.

Manatee County has nine Title I schools: Ballard, Daughtrey, Manatee, Oneco, Orange Ridge-Bullock, Rowlett, Samoset, Tillman and Wakeland elementary schools.

Of those schools, only Daughtrey is not under some kind of sanction because of NCLB. Daughtrey was one of a small number of Title I schools in the state last year to make adequate yearly progress under NCLB.

Flynn, a vocal critic of NCLB, said the recent changes will help more-affluent schools while increasing pressure on less-affluent schools.

"It's going to improve the number of schools making AYP, but it's going to further isolate those schools that are more diverse," Flynn said. "Schools that are less diverse will be getting off the hook."
 
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Arkansas education fight back in court
AP,
5/20/05
 
LITTLE ROCK, Arkansas -- Arkansas believed it settled a long-running fight over school funding last year, but nearly a quarter of the state's school districts were back in court Thursday accusing the Legislature of neglecting education.

Lawyers for 47 districts -- from rich northwestern
Arkansas and the poorer Delta -- told the Arkansas Supreme Court it was obligated to reopen a lawsuit that led to changes in the way the state funds its public school system.

"If you don't take up that mantle, you need to know that education reform will be solely at the whim of the Legislature," said David Matthews, representing the
Rogers School District.

A lawyer for the Legislature and Gov. Mike Huckabee said, however, if districts are unhappy with their appropriations, they should file a new lawsuit.

In a 2002 ruling, justices said
Arkansas' state government had a constitutional duty to provide a properly funded school system, with money shared equally among districts and their students.

Forty-seven districts sued
Arkansas at the end of this year's legislative session, arguing that an education budget keeping funding at $5,400 a student ignored a 2004 legislative promise that funding public schools would be the state's No. 1 priority.

Seventeen other districts complained in a separate case.

The districts want the previous lawsuit reopened, but the attorney general's office argued Thursday this year's funding plan is presumed to be proper and that an entirely new legal challenge must be started.

"The system that is in place right now is constitutional," said Chief Deputy Attorney General Timothy Gauger.

The attorney general's office also said legislators in 2004 built in a $44 per-student cushion in the base funding, making it unnecessary to raise the funding this year.

The justices sounded uneasy Thursday with the court again serving as a school-funding watchdog.

Justice Robert Brown noted the state has committed more than $700 million in additional money to public education since the 2002 decision declaring school funding inequitable and inadequate.

"Education to me is a mosaic with a lot of different factors. Should this court be engaged in that enterprise?" he asked.
 
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Congress told schools need more math and science
U.S. students not finding subjects worthy of a career
By ALEXIS GRANT,
Houston Chronicle Washington Bureau, 5/20/05
 
WASHINGTON - Teachers need to hook kids on math and science as early as elementary school to keep them interested during high school and later in life, educators and business leaders told members of Congress on Thursday.

That would help the
United States close the gap with countries where students have become more proficient in the two subjects, witnesses testified at a meeting of the House subcommittee on 21st century competitiveness.

"We need to promote in K through 12 more math and science," said Thomas Magnanti, dean of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology's school of engineering.

The problem is with the "pipeline," said the subcommittee's chairman, Rep. Howard McKeon, R-Calif. Not enough students in elementary and high school, especially girls, are interested in science and math, so few students pursue those fields in college and as a career, he said.

A 2003 study of 15-year-olds in 41 countries showed that American students ranked 25th in math, behind
South Korea, Japan and Austria. In science, the United States ranked 20th. The study was conducted by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development.

"Many of today's high school graduates are entering the 'real world' seriously lacking the knowledge and skills they need to be successful in college, the workplace and in life," said June Streckfus, executive director of the Maryland Business Roundtable for Education.

U.S. students must be tested in reading and math but not in science under President Bush's education policy, No Child Left Behind. Science testing will be required starting in the 2007-08 school year, but even then the testing rules won't be as stringent as they are for reading and math.

Texas already meets the upcoming science requirement. Students have had to take science tests in the fifth, 10th and 11th grades since 2003.

"We're already seeing more emphasis on elementary science because of that test," said Debbie Ratcliffe, communications director at the Texas Education Agency.

About 65 percent of students in the state take three or more years of science and math during high school, Ratcliffe said. This year the high school science requirement increased from two to three classes.

Teacher retention, as well as getting women and minorities involved in science and math, would also help the
United States compete with other nations, witnesses said.
 
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===========================================================================

FROM “EDUCATION WEEK”

States Facing Fiscal Strain of Pensions 

Obligations to Teachers May Outpace Assets
By David J. Hoff, Education Week, 5/18/05

Illinois has a $20 billion problem.

The state has promised $51 billion in pensions to 225,000 current and retired teachers, but it has only $31 billion in its accounts to pay for those pensions.

At $20 billion in the red, the
Illinois teacher-pension fund has the country’s biggest deficit for such a fund, but it’s not the only state with a problem. Faced with a tepid stock market, a rise in life expectancy, and teacher contracts that critics say inflate pensions, many states are seeking ways to tweak or even overhaul the way they underwrite educators’ retirement benefits.

“It’s coming from every direction right now,” said Bernard Jump Jr., a professor emeritus of public administration at
Syracuse University and an expert on publicly financed pensions. “It’s a very ugly time out there.”

For many states, the solution is to wait for investment returns to fully rebound. But for others, the trouble can be fixed only by cutting benefits or by increasing state payments into the system. Neither of those steps is easy, pension experts say.

“It’s very, very difficult to make structural changes” in pension benefits, said Ronald K. Snell, the director of the economic and fiscal division of the Denver-based National Conference of State Legislatures. Pension obligations, he notes, are usually based on contractual agreements that can’t be modified without the consent of both parties. Even changes in programs that aren’t protected by such agreements face fierce opposition from teachers who are counting on benefits promised at the start of their careers.

The health of employee retirement systems is something states of all sizes are grappling with right now, as public-sector pension funds have 89 percent of the money they need to meet their long-term obligations.

“We’re all pretty much in the same boat,” said Rhode Island Treasurer Paul J. Tavares, a Democrat. “The universal challenge is … what is the future of [pension] plans.”

Right now, several states are weighing different approaches to shore up their pension funds for teachers and state employees.

For example:

• In
Illinois, Gov. Rod R. Blagojevich is proposing to cap the amount that end-of-career raises would contribute to a teacher’s pension—a move that would reduce the payouts. Too many teachers are receiving big raises toward the end of their careers, thus inflating their pension income, the Democrat says.

Rhode Island legislators are debating plans from Mr. Tavares and Gov. Donald L. Caricieri, a Republican. Both would raise the teacher-retirement age and cap cost-of-living increases for current and future retirees.

Alaska and California officials are proposing individual-investment programs akin to 401(k) plans–moves that teacher unions are fighting.

Defining Benefits

More than 19 percent of public school teachers, other school employees, and other civil servants are covered by “defined benefit” pensions. Except for major urban areas such as
New York City, Los Angeles, and Chicago, the plans are administered by states. In some states, teachers and other educators are in the same pension program as all state employees; other states have separate funds for educators.

In defined-benefit plans, participants contribute a portion of their annual salaries to an investment fund managed by an independent panel. In almost all cases, the employer also chips in. When employees retire, they and their spouses are guaranteed regular payments for life.

States and some cities have assets totaling $2.1 trillion in 103 pension plans, according to the National Association of State Retirement Administrators. That amount is enough to cover 89 percentof the money promised to the 12.7 million current employees and 5.8 million retirees collecting pensions.

The stock-market decline since the dot-com boom days is not a threat to the overall solvency of the funds. Each funds’ health depends on individual factors, said Mr. Jump.

A fund that is accumulating assets through employer contributions and good financial management is likely in better shape than one whose assets are dwindling, even if the former’s funding level is lower, Mr. Jump said.

Overall, the pension funds are in better financial shape than 30 years ago, said Nancy L. McKenzie, the pension and security specialist for the 2.7 million-member National Education Association.

For a pension fund headed in the wrong direction, its long-term problems will mount for every year the state doesn’t address them.

Teacher Raises Targeted

Again, take
Illinois.

Until 1995, the state’s contribution to its pension funds was subject to an annual appropriation by the legislature. But, just as individuals saving for retirement don’t always follow the advice of financial advisers,
Illinois lawmakers failed to put enough money in to cover the funds’ liabilities, state officials say.

Since 1996, the state has paid 14 percent of educators’ salaries into the fund. Districts have added contributions equal to 0.5 percent of those salaries. Those contributions have helped, but have not solved the problem.

At the end of fiscal 2003, the Illinois Teachers Retirement System had a little less than half the $47 billion that state official estimated was needed to pay off current and future retirees. Last year, the state bolstered its payments to the teachers’ fund and the four other funds it manages for state employees by selling $10 billion in what are called pension-obligation bonds.

In response, Gov. Blagojevich has identified at least one place to scale back payments in the teachers’ pension fund.
Illinois districts routinely give veteran educators large salary increases in the final three years of their careers. The practice, the governor says, drives up costs to the pension fund. He proposes that only salary increases of up to 3 percent annually during those final three years be part of the benefit calculation.

“Taxpayers across
Illinois shouldn’t have to pay billions of dollars more in increased pension costs just to cover those end-of-career raises,” Mr. Blagojevich said in his Feb. 16 state budget speech.

The state’s largest teachers’ union has joined local school officials to fight the proposal in a series of rallies and lobbying days aimed at influencing the legislature, which is considering the governor’s proposal.

Local unions negotiate the pay raises as a “deferred compensation” for years of working for low salaries, said Charles McBarron, a spokesman for the Illinois Education Association, a 120,000-member affiliate of the National Education Association. “This is simply a way to compensate teachers at the end of their career,” he said.

A similar debate is under way in
Massachusetts.

The Massachusetts Teacher Retirement Board is actually rejecting portions of teachers’ pensions because, it says, end-of-career bonuses are inflating their pension payouts.

The decisions are unfair, teachers’ unions say, because the bonuses are part of contracts, and the practice of giving large bonuses and basing pension payments on them has been sanctioned by state courts.

“To take away what has been legally bargained for is patently unfair,” said Catherine A. Boudreau, the president of the 100,000-member Massachusetts Teachers Association, an affiliate of the National Education Association, which is representing teachers’ whose pensions have been reduced by the decision.

Big Changes

While
Illinois and Massachusetts debate how much retirees should receive, other states are trying to completely overhaul their pension programs.

The Alaska Senate has passed a bill that would change the state’s pension plans so employees would have to manage retirement savings on their own.

The measure would require the state and employees to contribute set percentages to individual retirement accounts. That approach is called a “defined contribution” plan because it doesn’t promise any payouts other than ones accrued over the life of an individual’s fund.

In
California, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger proposed a similar pension setup for teachers and state employees who are hired after July 1, 2007. The governor had aimed to get an initiative on the ballot this year that would have created a defined-contribution plan, but he backed off when the idea drew the wrath of teacher and state-employee unions. He now says he plans to try to get the proposal on the ballot next year.

Unions lobby against defined-contribution plans because they may not yield all the money retirees need, said Ms. McKenzie of the NEA.

“Defined-contribution plans are not secure because they’re subject to unpredictable account balances,” Ms. McKenzie said. “It’s impossible to know in advance what the benefits will be at retirement.”

Meanwhile,
West Virginia took steps recently to abandon its 14-year-old defined-contribution plan and return to a traditional plan.

Under legislation passed this year, the state will ask voters to approve $5.5 billion in pension bonds to shore up its teachers fund and a separate fund for judges. The teachers hired since 1991, who have been in a defined-contribution plan, will vote next year whether to join the defined-benefit plan.

Looking ahead, Mr. Tavares, the
Rhode Island state treasurer, says that teachers across the nation may not get a choice between defined-benefit and defined-contribution funds. They may get both.

“I suspect that in the future, you’ll see a combination of both” types of plans, said Mr. Tavares, who called his proposals to shore up the state’s existing defined-benefit plan a “stopgap.”

Under the hybrid approach, he said, retirees would get a safety net from a traditional plan and supplement that with their own savings.

“Collectively, they’ll have a secure retirement,” he said.
 
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Private Schools Hail Changes to IDEA
By Christina A. Samuels, Education Week, 5/18/05

Fairfax, Va. - As the day begins at Paul VI Catholic High School here, 12 students in the Options program are engaged in a religion lesson in their small classroom near the cafeteria.

They flip through their Jesus and You textbooks while Kathleen Leffas, who teaches courses in the Catholic faith at the school, asks them which part of a picture shows the Holy Spirit.

“You can’t really see it,” says 18-year-old Erin Thompson, a junior. “But it’s the dove.”

The children in the Options program all have developmental disabilities. Peer mentors—their fellow students—accompany them to all their classes, making sure they are integrated into the life of the 1,150-student Roman Catholic school in this suburb of
Washington.

Private school students like these also are among the intended beneficiaries of the federal Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, and parents and private school advocates hope changes in the newest version of the law will make it easier for them to get school district services without having to enroll in public schools.

Mary Donovan, who enrolled her 16-year-old daughter, Caitlin, in the Options program, said her child would have been lost in her neighborhood high school. At Paul VI High, “the peer-mentoring program they have is phenomenal,” she said. “I really wanted her to feel part of a school.”

Under the IDEA, school districts are required to spend a proportionate share of their federal special education funding on students who were enrolled by their parents in private schools. For instance, if private schools enroll 10 percent of all the students with special needs in a district, the district should spend 10 percent of its federal IDEA allocation on services for private school students. That proportionate-share formula hasn’t changed since the 1997 reauthorization of the federal law.

But the version of the law that Congress enacted late last year includes some changes that private school supporters have welcomed. For example, districts now must provide services to students who attend private schools within the district’s boundaries, even if the student resides in another school district. In the 1997 version of the IDEA, districts were required to offer services only to the students who lived within that district’s boundaries.

Among the other changes in the 2004 law are requirements that private and public schools have “timely and meaningful” consultations on special education services and that districts maintain written affirmations that such meetings have taken place.

Also under the latest reauthorization, districts are required to report to the state the number of private school students who have been evaluated, and how many have been determined to have some kind of disability. Districts also must record and report the number of private school children they evaluate, the number determined to have a disability, and the total number served.

The U.S. Department of Education is drafting regulations interpreting the reauthorized IDEA, which are scheduled to be made final by the end of the year. The rules should define in detail just what provisions such as “timely and meaningful” consultations mean, department officials say.

More Efficient?

Advocates for private education say the revised IDEA’s changes will work well for their students.

The 1997 version of the law “wasn’t as honored as it should have been,” said Sister Dale McDonald, the director of public policy and education research for the National Catholic Educational Association, a Washington-based professional group for Roman Catholic schools and educators. Much of the new language in the 2004 law comes from Education Department regulations written for the previous version.

No national organization tracks the total number of students with disabilities in private schools, as states are required to do with public school students. But the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops has such numbers for Catholic schools.

Based on a study last year, the bishops’ conference found that 7 percent of students in Catholic schools had disabilities, compared with 11.4 percent of students in public schools. But only 1 percent of students with disabilities at Catholic schools were receiving services financed under the IDEA, the report said.

Sister McDonald believes that as the most recent reauthorization moved through Congress, the statistics compiled by the bishops’ group prompted lawmakers to make some changes to strengthen the connection between public and private schools.

She believes that the change requiring districts to provide services to students who attend private schools in those districts is a positive step that could lead to more provision of special education services on site at private schools. She said many private school parents have chosen not to accept services in the past because that has meant that their child had to get on a bus and return to the home district, missing part of the school day.

On-site services “may be more efficient,” Sister McDonald said. “What they’re spending money on in transportation should go down if they’re providing on-site services,” she said, referring to school districts.

Joe McTighe, the executive director of the Council for American Private Education, or CAPE, a Germantown, Md.-based umbrella organization for national private education groups, said that shift in responsibility for districts should end up being “a wash” for them.

Using the
District of Columbia as an example, he said that the school system there would now have to provide special education services for students who attend private schools within Washington’s city limits. However, it will no longer have to provide services for city students whose parents send them to private schools in surrounding school districts.

The
District of Columbia “can’t just look at the kids it is gaining. It has to look at the kids it is losing,” Mr. McTighe said, referring to the potential financial impact of the change.

Judd Schemmel, the executive director of the Wisconsin Council of Religious and
Independent Schools, a 765-school consortium representing about 85 percent of the private schools in the state, called the shift in responsibility for different sets of private school students “an important change, and it is a change that will take some time to take root.”

Eventually, Mr. Schemmel said, “I think this will be easier for the public school district, in terms of the administrative chain of command.”

Public School Concerns

However, public school groups say the changes may be onerous.

“We have a tremendous number of concerns,” said Nancy Reder, the director of governmental relations for the Alexandria, Va.-based National Association of State Directors of Special Education.

One problem, Ms. Reder said, is the issue of reimbursement across state lines. Federal funding for special education flows to the states, which distribute the money to districts. As long as a student attends school in his or her home state, the funding stream is relatively easy to maintain.

But that doesn’t account for students who may attend private schools in other states. That’s a big concern for states such as
New York, Connecticut, New Jersey, and others in the Northeast, where there is a strong boarding school tradition, Ms. Reder said.

Another potential problem involves the lack of qualified special education teachers to provide services.

“If you have a school district that is already short-staffed, now they’re going to be called upon to provide services for more people,” Ms. Reder said.

Robert Runkel, the
Montana state director of special education services, said his state has some very small school districts that happen to be home to comparatively large private schools. The 68-student Ashland, Mont., district is home to a 350-student campus of St. Labre Indian School, a Catholic school with two other campuses in the state. The Ashland district’s resources could be pinched when it comes to evaluating St. Labre students for special education, Mr. Runkel said.

In
Fairfax County, Va., where Paul VI High School is located, both public school officials and private school parents are still learning just how the latest version of the IDEA will apply to them.

The 166,000-student
Fairfax County district is the largest in the state. As of this past December, there were 23,702 special education students attending school in the county, 284 of whom were enrolled in private schools, or a little over 1 percent. Most of those private school students receive speech and language services at their neighborhood public schools.

Parents at Paul VI say that as they understand the law, it’s still their responsibility to seek out services from the district.

One Paul VI student in the Options program attends speech classes once a week at a public school. Other parents plan to re-enroll their children in public schools once they graduate from Paul VI; the Fairfax County district offers career and employment skills training for students with disabilities up to age 21, as required under the IDEA.

“You have to maintain your child’s eligibility and take the initiative to obtain any services, and then they try to accommodate you within their mode of providing services,” said Bill Dalgetty, whose 19-year-old daughter Emily is a senior at Paul VI.

“I don’t believe that they will take any action unless you request it,” he said.

More Work?

Patricia Addison, the director of special education for the
Fairfax County district and the president of the Virginia Council of Administrators of Special Education, said that her staff works with private school parents who come to the school district requesting help. She said the district also sends letters to private schools in the county, to make them aware of the services it will provide.

Private school students in
Fairfax County receive free special education evaluations upon request and, if they require services, are each given an “individualized service plan.”

Ms. Addison said she wonders just how much more work the 2004 special education law will mean for her, and whether she will have to devote resources to tracking students from outside the county.

“We currently screen every child that’s new to
Fairfax County public schools. Do we now have to screen every child that’s new to [a private] school?” Ms. Addison said. “I think there’s going to have to be a much more formal and time-consuming process, from what I’ve read.”
 
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Handcuffing of Children Raises Questions

Unruly Elementary Pupils Pose Difficult Choices for Schools and Police
By Marianne D. Hurst, Education Week, 5/18/05

When police in
St. Petersburg, Fla., handcuffed an unruly 5-year-old kindergartner at Fairmount Park Elementary School one day this spring, school officials had been trying to calm the girl down for more than an hour.

“The floor was littered with things she’d knocked off the desk,” said George L. Kajtsa, a spokesman for the St. Petersburg Police Department. He said that police officers restrained the girl with plastic handcuffs because she had been punching at her teacher and the assistant principal, jumping up on tables, and tearing items off the walls.

But the incident—recorded on videotape and aired on television newscasts nationwide—and similar events reported in other schools around the country this academic year have stirred concern among many parents, educators, and community leaders. Their question: Is it ever appropriate to handcuff an elementary school pupil?

“The police officers’ conduct was outrageous,” Dennis Courtland Hayes, the interim president and chief executive officer of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, based in
Baltimore, said in a statement about the Fairmount Park incident. “If three police officers and two education professionals have to resort to shackling a 5-year-old, what kind of message are they sending to America’s children?”

Many educators and school safety experts agree, calling the use of handcuffs on a child so young extreme because a boy or girl that age doesn’t pose a significant physical threat to adults.

Others, though, counter that age can be deceiving, and that threatening behavior by young children can pose risks to adults and other students, undermine the authority of educators, and disrupt learning.

“Strength and size have nothing to do with it,” Mr. Kajtsa said. “She has her fists balled up and hitting the teacher,” he said of the girl in
St. Petersburg. “Some people contend she couldn’t do anything [to hurt the teacher], but that’s not the point. The child knows they can do what they want without the teacher interfering. The teacher’s hands are basically tied.”

The mother of the girl has filed a lawsuit against the 113,000-student
Pinellas County school district and the police department, alleging child abuse, according to Mr. Kajtsa.

‘Unappreciated Problem’

Some experts say that because teachers are under legal constraints on how they can discipline children, student unruliness is difficult for them to control. That’s why teachers resort to calling police, who then determine whether a child should be handcuffed.

“This is an unappreciated problem in
America’s schools,” said Philip K. Howard, the founder and chairman of Common Good, a nonprofit legal-reform coalition based in New York City that is working to restore what it sees as common sense to American law.

“Today, the rudeness of children—because they know the teacher can’t do anything about [their behavior]—is shocking,” he said. “Authority has been turned upside-down. So we resort to police.”

But Randall Marshall, the legal director of the Miami-based
Florida chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union, called such arguments overblown. The legal system, he pointed out, still allows educators to take steps to prevent children from behaving inappropriately. Schools that have ongoing disciplinary problems, he said, need to devote resources to help train staff members and work on disciplinary solutions, rather than rely on police help.

Handcuffing elementary-age children is “uncalled for,” said Alphonse Shropshire, the administrator of school social-work services for the 64,000-student
New Orleans school district.

He said that elementary pupils who act out don’t need to be handcuffed to be calmed down. His district has been using a national nonviolent-crisis-intervention program since the mid-1990s. The program—created by the Crisis Prevention Institute, Inc., a Brookfield, Wis.-based organization that promotes nonviolent approaches to managing disruptive behavior—trains educators and security personnel in how to deal with disruptive or unruly students, as well as how to use physical restraints effectively as a last resort.

A new study, meanwhile, is focusing attention on discipline for even younger pupils. It found a higher rate of expulsions for pre-K pupils than for K-12 students. ("Preschoolers Expelled From School at Rates Exceeding That of K-12," this issue.)

West Virginia Response

Districts are divided on just how disruptive incidents in the early grades should be handled, and on whether it is ever appropriate to handcuff an elementary-age child.

The 5,300-student Ohio County, W. Va., schools faced that dilemma last month after a 7-year-old 1st grader at the 140-student Bethlehem Elementary School allegedly threw an eraser during class, then threw a chair and began acting belligerently. The principal tried to calm him down, but the boy kicked her and evaded teachers until he eventually fled the building, according to Kathy Finsley, the district’s general counsel and human-resources director.

Because the school’s attendance director and security officer were unavailable to help at the time, school officials decided to call the local police, said Ms. Finsley.

Meanwhile, a teacher pursued the boy to keep him from running out into traffic. The child ran back into the building just as police arrived. But he ignored a police officer’s request to speak with him and continued running around the building banging on doors and screaming, according to Ms. Finsley. He kicked and struck repeatedly at the officer. At that point, the officer decided to handcuff him.

District officials said the boy was handcuffed for only a few minutes.

“We have reason to believe that everyone acted appropriately and according to policies and procedures,” Ms. Finsley said.

However, she said, the district is working with a lawyer for the boy’s parents as well as the Ohio Valley Black Caucus to revisit school policy.

In
Ohio, officials of the 27,000-student Kent school district have been using a policy since 1994 that allows school security officers to restrain students of any age, including through the use of handcuffs, if they are engaging in potentially violent or illegal behavior.

So far, during the 2004-05 school year, the district has reported 33 incidents in which students needed to be handcuffed. Although none of those incidents involved K-6 students, the district has restrained elementary pupils with handcuffs in the past.

“We would rather make sure we were taking measures to ensure that the school is safe than look back and see someone get hurt because we stood by,” said Becky Hanks, a district spokeswoman.
 
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Immigrants Trigger Change, White Exodus in Iowa District

West Liberty District Adjusts Strategies to Improve Outreach to Hispanic Families
By Alan Richard, Education Week, 5/18/05

West Liberty, Iowa - Like a growing number of other places in America’s heartland, West Liberty is watching its share of minority students shift into the majority.

In this working-class
Iowa town of 3,600, about 65 miles west of the state’s southeastern border with Illinois, the changes are less visible than they are consequential for the local economy and school system.
 
West Liberty’s quaint, brick-paved downtown now features authentic Mexican cuisine and a mercado, or small local grocery store, along with the traditional bank and pharmacy. In the schools, announcements are in Spanish and English. Soccer is the new sport, and separate signs give the location of the school office and oficina.

Forty-eight percent of West Liberty’s 1,200 schoolchildren are Hispanic, said Becky Rodocker, an Iowa native who taught Latino children to speak and read English in California before returning here as superintendent. In kindergarten through 8th grade, Hispanic students are the majority, at 54 percent.

The number of districts like
West Liberty will continue to grow in the years and decades to come in Iowa and other states, demographers say. ("Newcomers Bring Change, Challenge to Region," May 4, 2005.)

Immigration has brought joys and challenges to the school system here.

Children of different backgrounds learn together and befriend each other. Yet educators are troubled that some Hispanic students see little need for a diploma or a future in professional work. And some Anglo families have withdrawn their children from the district’s schools, prompting
West Liberty to seek approval from the state education agency of a plan that restricts student transfers into other districts

With the federal No Child Left Behind Act pushing schools to improve instruction for immigrant as well as U.S.-born students, raising test scores will be no easy task, as many Hispanic students here are still learning English.

Veteran high school English teacher Carol Clark and other educators here say they are learning lessons that other districts may need to follow in the near future, even in the smallest of towns.

Ms. Clark, for one, is upbeat. “Whatever fortuitous accident this was,” she said of the town’s changing population, “is wonderful.”

Changing Times

West Liberty’s first Hispanic families arrived from Mexico almost a century ago as railroad workers.

The town’s manufacturing-workforce demands increased with the opening of a turkey-processing plant in the 1950s, and immigrant meatpackers were brought from
Texas to live in dormitories, Ms. Clark said. Over time, workers brought their families here and moved into permanent housing.

In the past decade, as the demand for construction and service-industry workers has increased in
Iowa, even more immigrants have arrived.

In recent years, however, that trend has put new strains on the district.

When Ms. Rodocker arrived as the superintendent in July of 2001, a steady stream of families was leaving the public schools.

Ten percent of white students have left the district since 2001, amounting to $400,000 a year in lost state revenue—or about 5 percent of the district’s budget—based on per-pupil enrollment.

To soften the fiscal blow and to help maintain its racial and ethnic balance, the district successfully sought approval from the Iowa Department of Education for its plan to restrict student transfers under
Iowa’s open-enrollment law. Under the plan—approved July 1, 2004—parents must still seek district approval for any student transfers to neighboring districts. But, unless a matching Hispanic or other minority student arrives to keep the ratio of whites to Hispanics the same, Ms. Rodocker doesn’t have to grant what had been automatic permission to leave.

“Our schools should reflect our community, and that wasn’t happening,” she said.

Public Perceptions

The changes presented many other challenges for
West Liberty school board members, who are rethinking local school policies and spending to better serve the changing enrollment.

Fay Cline, a school board member and lifelong
West Liberty resident, was surprised to learn that fliers the district distributed to Hispanic parents in Spanish were written so poorly that they insulted some local Spanish-speaking residents. “We didn’t speak the language” of many parents, she said. “As board members, we played a lot of catch-up.”

Superintendent Rodocker said she heard townspeople use racial slurs to describe local immigrants, and had doors slammed in her face as she campaigned last year for a successful bond vote to build a new high school. “They use the N-word for our Hispanics,” she said of some residents.

Another board member, Bill Laughlin, said whites’ attitudes toward the town’s Hispanic residents are changing. “My kids feel very fortunate,” he said. “They don’t see the difference.”

But some business owners have complained that Hispanic youths often hang out downtown, dominating the sidewalks.

Ruben Galvan, the town’s first Hispanic parks and recreation director and a former coach in the
West Liberty schools, said youngsters spend time downtown because it’s where some of them live. Apartments above storefronts have made downtown one of West Liberty’s most heavily Hispanic neighborhoods. “That is their playground,” Mr. Galvan said.

To give youths more outlets for their energy, Mr. Galvan opens a community gym on weeknights for basketball and other activities. He hopes to start more recreational activities this summer, for children and adults.

Learning the Language

To help immigrant students learn English, and to help native
Iowa students learn Spanish, the school district has begun a dual-language immersion program. After some early resistance to the program, Ms. Rodocker calls it a success.

Families can choose whether to enroll their children in the classes, which are taught in both English and Spanish and will reach 7th grade in the next school year. Native Spanish-speakers often feel more comfortable in the classes, at least in their first year or two, since part of the instruction is in their native tongue. At the same time, native English-speakers pick up on Spanish. About 250 students are in the program.

In teacher Daniela Thome’s kindergarten room, where the Spanish alphabet was posted atop the chalkboard, a group of children read aloud in English one day in March. “After recess, we’ll switch to Spanish,” Ms. Thome said.

Last year,
West Liberty school officials hired a full-time translator and family liaison. Paula Wood, an Iowa native who studied in Guatemala, plans parent workshops and consults with school leaders daily.

On a recent morning, she responded to a school’s call for help.

Ms. Wood arrived at West Liberty High to help enroll a Hispanic student whose family spoke little English. At first, the student and his guardian looked stressed when the secretaries seemed unable to answer their questions or find paperwork the family had left at the school.

Then Ms. Wood, speaking Spanish in a friendly tone, put them at ease. The men departed with smiles and warm goodbyes after everything was settled—thanks to a gregarious young woman familiar with their language and culture.

“Está bien,” Ms. Wood told them, meaning, it’s OK.

Even with the changing demographics,
West Liberty has met its goals for adequate yearly progress under the federal No Child Left Behind Act for three years leading up to and including 2003-04.

But Ms. Rodocker said that the district’s 4th grade reading scores for Hispanics will likely fall short of the AYP targets this year.

“We have some challenges that other school systems in the state of
Iowa don’t have, and yet we’re doing a lot of really good things,” said Eric Sundermeyer, the district’s curriculum coordinator.

Concern About Expectations

Few Hispanic students—especially girls, who were encouraged at home to devote themselves mainly to housework and eventual motherhood—graduated in West Liberty through the early 1980s, educators here say.

Graduation rates of Hispanics have risen, but remain hindered by the undocumented status of many families. “If you’re undocumented, it completely permeates every aspect of your life,” said Ms. Wood, the translator and family liaison.

Parents who lack
U.S. citizenship or proper papers are afraid to work too closely with educators, fearing they might be reported. Children can be undocumented, too, making them ineligible for many jobs, and barring them from scholarships or other financial aid at the state’s community and four-year colleges.

Ms. Clark takes prospective first-generation college students to visit colleges and big-city workplaces in
Chicago to expose them to opportunities beyond the square-block streets of West Liberty. Her students recently organized a career fair that drew so many local teenagers that students plan to expand it next year and invite Hispanics, primarily, and other students from the surrounding area.

“It was fun, and it showed people actually did care about college,” said Alex Garcia, a 10th grader at
West Liberty High School who worked with her twin sister, Elizabeth, and others on the event.

Parent Jose Zacarias, who came from Mexico 20 years ago to work at the poultry plant and now works in manufacturing in nearby Iowa City, said he fears the schools and the town still have low expectations for Hispanics. He has removed two of his children from the
West Liberty schools, and plans to send the third to a Catholic school in Iowa City next year.

Mr. Zacarias has pulled his children out of the public schools here “for a reason,” he said.

“The reason is the expectations are low,” he said. “We still have two communities in town, the Hispanic community and the Anglo community.”

Mr. Galvan, the parks director, said the school system needs more Hispanic educators and other role models for students. “They need to have the same expectations as they do for an Anglo student,” he said of teachers and administrators.

Ramiro Ramos, a senior at West Liberty High, agreed. “I want to see tougher classes,” he said. “I want to make it more challenging to pass a grade and move up.”

Still, the divide between education for native residents and immigrants may be narrowing in the heartland.

“My brother’s in the 2nd grade, and he’s in the dual-language program, and he speaks Spanish better than I do,” said senior Jessi Kelly, who has taken three years of Spanish. “By the time those kids get in high school, it won’t be a problem.”
 
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New Fund-Raising Tactics Target Parent Purchases

Schools Earn Thousands From Earmarked Sales at Stores, Restaurants
By Rhea R. Borja, Education Week, 5/18/05
 
More schools are using credit-, debit-, and club-card rebate programs sponsored by big retail operations such as Target Inc. and Macy’s, or by restaurant chains, to help pay for sports uniforms, educational technology, field trips, and even facilities repairs.

The retail-rebate programs, in which parents earmark money from their purchases to go to their children’s schools, can be highly lucrative, and they’re supplementing or even supplanting such time-honored fund raisers as car washes and candy sales. And this new way of raising money has become increasingly important as state education budgets have tightened in recent years.

“It’s a [fund-raising] area that’s relatively new and emerging,” said Vincent L. Ferrandino, the executive director of the National Association of Elementary School Principals, which has 29,500 members and is based in Alexandria, Va. “There are still car washes and bake sales going on, … but the notion is that people are shopping and buying anyhow, so if they can designate a portion [of their purchase] for schools, then all the better.”

But while some educators and parents say the rebate programs are a boon to schools, opponents of commercialism in education see the approach as yet another sneaky way that corporations are trying to make money from K-12 schools.

“It’s very troubling that we’re telling [parents] to shop to get their kids educated,” said Susan Linn, the associate director of Judge Baker’s
Media Center, a child-research group affiliated with Harvard University, and the author of Consuming Kids: The Hostile Takeover of Childhood.

$100,000 a Year

Schools can receive hundreds to tens of thousands of dollars a year when parents or others shop at participating retailers. And the more they shop, the more money schools get.

Just ask Lisa Freeman. She’s the president of the Granada High School Supporters, a boosters club for the 2,100-student Granada High in
Livermore, Calif., an affluent suburb 45 miles east of San Francisco.

The boosters club helps some of the school’s sports teams and student clubs raise money through eScrip Inc., a San Mateo, Calif.-based company that seeks to connect retailers and shoppers.

Students ask parents, relatives, teachers, and friends to register up to four of their grocery loyalty cards and up to seven of their credit or debit cards through a handwritten form or via eScrip.com.

When those people shop, a cashier swipes their cards through the cash register, which automatically gives 1 percent to 8 percent of the purchase back to the boosters club, which receives the money each month. The supermarket chain Safeway Inc. is one of the most-used eScrip-partnered merchants, Ms. Freeman said.

The Safeway program works on a graduated scale. A participating Safeway shopper who spends under $300 a month gives 1 percent of the amount to the designated school, according to company literature. If the shopper spends from $300 to $499.99, the first $300 generates a 1 percent revenue contribution to the school, and any amount above that generates 2 percent. The most Safeway gives back is 4 percent.
 
The average monthly amount a Granada High team or club gets through eScrip is $350, though some have raked in $1,300, while others took in far less, Ms. Freeman said.

All told, the school receives about $100,000 a year through eScrip, said Chris Van Schaack, the principal of Granada High. Since the dot-com bubble burst in 1999 and state revenues plummeted, the extra cash has paid for school necessities, not luxuries, he said.

Some examples include fixing the pump and other equipment for the school swimming pool, refurbishing old band instruments, and dispensing fruit juice and breakfast bars to thousands of hungry students the morning they took the state’s standardized tests.


Mr. Van Schaack said he understands the concerns some people have about commercialism in schools. But the benefits far outweigh the drawbacks, he said.

“If this was a perfect society, then we wouldn’t have to do this,” he said. “But if it’s a choice of not having computers, then I’m willing to give.”

“This doesn’t require anybody to do anything they don’t already do,” Mr. Van Schaack added. “You would have bought those things anyway.”

‘Marketing Ploy’

Not everyone agrees.

Ms. Linn of Judge Baker’s
Media Center argues, for instance, that the rebate programs put more pressure on people to spend money, and to spend it at certain places.

Plus, the success of the programs sends the message that adequate public funding of schools isn’t a necessity, she says.

“The more corporations leap in to fill the breach, the more people will think that we don’t need funding for public education,” Ms. Linn said.

“If corporations want to donate money to schools, then they should donate money to schools. Not use this marketing ploy,” she said.

Business has been good for eScrip Inc., which started up in 1999. The trend toward fund raising through shopping has allowed the company to grow from having just a handful of local merchants and schools in
California to more than 200 retailers and 30,000 schools and churches nationwide. The number of families that have registered through eScrip now totals 1.5 million.

“People are willing to change their shopping patterns to benefit their children,” said Ian Diery, the chief executive officer of eScrip. “It puts empowerment in parents’ hands.”
 
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States Hoping to ‘Grow’ Into AYP Success 

Federal Officials Are Considering Alternatives for Measuring Progress
By Lynn Olson, Education Week, 5/18/05

U.S. Secretary of Education Margaret Spellings has indicated she may be open to new ways of measuring school progress, known as “growth” models, under the No Child Left Behind Act. But state officials are still unsure what the federal government might find acceptable.

In a speech last month, Ms. Spellings said the federal Department of Education would convene a panel of experts to consider ways of allowing states to incorporate that kind of gauge into their accountability systems. ("States to Get New Options on NCLB Law,"
April 13, 2005.)

Unlike the current setup, which requires states to set and schools to meet annual targets for the percent of students who are rated “proficient” or higher on state reading and math tests each year, growth models give schools and districts credit for increasing student achievement, even if they have not yet reached the proficiency goals.

Defining what’s meant by “growth” and how to measure it, though, is far from clear.

“There have been enough different versions of what that might be that I don’t think there’s yet a coherent view,” said Brian Gong, the executive director of the Center for Assessment, a nonprofit group in
Dover, N.H., that provides research and consulting services on assessment and accountability systems.

While a handful of states have proposed using some kind of growth model, said Kerri L. Briggs, a senior policy adviser in the U.S. Department of Education, Ms. Spellings and Raymond J. Simon, the acting deputy secretary of education, want to hear from researchers and experts in the field before approving any of the current proposals. The department has yet to name any members to the working group.

“It’s really too soon to get into any details,” Ms. Briggs said last week. “I think they want to know what’s possible, given the statutory parameters. I think they welcome the idea in the big picture.”

The
Massachusetts Model

Massachusetts has already won federal approval for one such model. The state uses a performance index to rate schools that awards 100 points for every student who scores at the proficient level or higher on state tests, but also gives schools reduced credit for students at lower performance levels.

Under the existing NCLB rules, schools and districts must meet steadily increasing targets both for their total enrollments and for specific groups of students—such as those who are poor or minority—until all youngsters score at the proficient level in 2013-14.
 
To make adequate yearly progress in
Massachusetts, schools must meet the state’s current target on the performance index for the total student population and for each subgroup. Schools or subgroups within a school that are far below the target can still make AYP, however, if their rate of improvement on the index, based on where they started, is steep enough that all students would reach proficiency by 2014 if it continued.

“We ought to distinguish between those schools down there that are making great progress versus those that aren’t, and they ought to get some credit for it,” said David P. Driscoll,
Massachusetts’ commissioner of education.

Other states—including
Minnesota and Oklahoma—use a similar method under the federal law’s “safe harbor” provision, designed to provide a second look at schools that don’t make AYP initially. It permits schools to make adequate progress if they reduce the percent of non-proficient students in the subgroup that missed its target by 10 percent from the previous year. But many consider such a jump too big to be reasonable for many schools.

Like most states,
Massachusetts compares the performance of different cohorts of students over time to determine if a school is progressing. Because a school’s student body and the profile of a particular grade can vary by year, critics contend that’s like comparing apples and oranges.

In addition, because test scores are strongly correlated with such student characteristics as poverty, researchers argue that such “status” models say more about who attends a school than about how much its educators contribute to student learning.

Value-Added Models

In contrast,
Tennessee has proposed using a “value added” system to measure its growth under the federal law.

Value-added models track the performance of individual students over time and judge schools based on how much academic growth each student makes from year to year.

“Some people think that by following individual student growth, it will reveal good performance that is not shown in the status and improvement models that are incorporated in NCLB,” said Mr. Gong. Whether that will prove true is unclear, he added.

So far, federal officials have been leery of value-added models largely because they are not designed to ensure that all students reach the proficient level by 2014. Instead, such models typically ask whether schools are making more or less progress with their students than comparison schools.

Tennessee has tried to address that issue. Under its proposal to the federal Education Department, a school that did not meet the state’s proficiency targets could still make adequate progress as long as the percent of students on track to pass the state’s high school exit test by graduation had increased by 10 percent over the previous year.

“I feel it’s another option to show progress in those areas where no progress is apparent,” said Connie J. Smith, who directs the office of innovation, improvement, and accountability in the
Tennessee education department. The state based the proposal on a dozen years of tracking individual student data in grades 3-8.

“We’ve got a technique that we think shows progress over time and improvement toward meeting the objective for high school graduation,” Ms. Smith said. “We think we can be a model for the
United States.”

She’s been talking with other states, including
Arkansas, California, and Pennsylvania, about Tennessee’s plan, which had not been approved by the federal government as of last week.

Minnesota received approval to use a growth model similar to that in Massachusetts for its accountability plan. But the state would like to incorporate an additional growth calculation, subject to federal approval, once it is testing students in each of grades 3-8.

Patricia D. Olson, the assistant commissioner for accountability and improvement in the
Minnesota education department, said the state would like to use a value-added model starting with its spring 2007 tests. The state will be conducting pilot studies of different growth models next year.

“It gives us a way to use multiple measures to make a determination,” Ms. Olson said, “and it should be fairer to everybody.”

“We do have schools that are doing a wonderful job at pulling their kids up, but they can’t quite hit that bar yet,” she said. “You want to be able to acknowledge that.”

Wait and See

Other states are interested in using growth models to satisfy the demands of the NCLB law, but are waiting to see what happens.

“I know that we support, in concept, the idea that states should have the option to use growth models,” said Pete Bylsma, the director of research, evaluation, and accountability for the
Washington state education department. “We’re not there yet.”

Pennsylvania officials did some calculations to see what would happen if the state used an index similar to Massachusetts’. While a number of schools would have made AYP, an equal number that made adequate progress under the law’s existing safe-harbor provision would not have done so.

“So at that point, we decided that we were not going to pursue that for this year,” said John Weiss, the acting chief of the division of performance analysis and reporting in the
Pennsylvania education department. The state also is piloting a value-added model that tracks individual students’ progress.

In
Louisiana, Assistant Superintendent of Education Robin Jarvis said the state’s accountability commission is interested in value-added analyses, but wants to wait until the state has several years of data from new state tests before making a decision. “I don’t expect them to come back to that until spring 2007,” she said, “but they may surprise me.”

How Much Is Enough?

One of the biggest issues, said Mr. Gong of the Center for Assessment, is what rate of growth should be expected and how to determine it.

Should the same rate apply to all students, for example, or should different trajectories be set for students with disabilities or those who speak limited English? While some people think the latter is more realistic, others argue that setting different expectations for students based on their characteristics is precisely what the federal law was trying to get away from.

It’s unlikely that federal officials would approve growth models that set such low or minimal growth expectations that most youngsters wouldn’t reach proficiency by 2014.

Sandy Kress, a former adviser to President Bush who helped craft the federal law, said: “Margaret [Spellings] is opening the door, but I think the key word is ‘proficiency.’ I think there may be an openness to growth models that show an expectation of proficiency, in which students who are not now proficient but are on a clear path to proficiency can be credited for the growth.

“I do not see people getting growth models approved under NCLB language that are not what I call proficiency-rooted or proficiency-based,” he said.

At a meeting on the use of such longitudinal-data systems at the Washington-based Urban Institute this month, researchers also raised cautions about the technical issues associated with value-added models. Those concerns included the quality of the tests, whether to adjust for student and school characteristics, and what to do when some data on individual students are missing.

What’s clear is that support is growing for at least exploring value-added and other growth measures.

“I think we have to proceed very carefully,” said Steven Rivkin, an economist at
Amherst College in Massachusetts, who has done value-added analyses using Texas data. But, he added, the way schools are now judged “is just clearly wrong, and my sense is using the value-added or growth models is going to get you closer to the right answer.”

Rob Meyer, who directs a center on value-added research at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, agreed: “The attainment model is so obviously flawed that we ought to work really hard to figure out whether we can get value-added to work.”
 
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Special Education Test Flexibility Detailed

Not Every State May Want to Seek Relief This Year, Spellings Says
By Christina A. Samuels, Education Week, 5/18/05

States can start taking advantage of flexibility under the No Child Left Behind Act for some of their special education students this school year, but they will have to clear several hurdles to do so, the Department of Education announced last week.

The new details about the testing flexibility that Secretary of Education Margaret Spellings first outlined in April got a mixed reaction from state education officials, with some suggesting that the requirements were too complex.

Secretary Spellings announced last month that 2 percent of students in special education who have “persistent academic disabilities” could be tested using modified assessments. The result, for some states, is that more of their students who are in special education will be deemed proficient under the No Child Left Behind law’s standards. ("States to Get New Options on NCLB Law,"
April 13, 2005.)

The Education Department already allows 1 percent of students with “severe cognitive disabilities” to be counted as proficient even if they take alternative assessments that are below grade level. The additional 2 percent is intended to allow for students who, even with the best instruction, cannot meet grade-level standards, Ms. Spellings has said.

Ms. Spellings said in a May 10 teleconference with reporters that the flexibility options will come with some fairly rigid guidelines. “This is not for everybody,” she said. “It will be for a good number of states, no doubt about it.”

Asked why the flexibility wouldn’t be extended to every state immediately, Raymond J. Simon, the acting deputy secretary of education, explained that the department wants to see progress.

“This groundwork is absolutely fundamental,” Mr. Simon said in the teleconference. “It’s something that every state should be doing anyway.”

To use the short-term options, a state must, among other things, have a 95 percent or more test-participation rate and use the same subgroup size for students with disabilities that they use for other subgroups.

After meeting those requirements, a state has two options. One would allow it to use a mathematical formula to increase the passing rate for students with disabilities. The other would allow the state to count more scores from alternative tests as proficient.

The Education Department will also consider other options a state may offer, as long as they maintain high standards.

Patricia F. Sullivan, the director of the Washington-based Center on Education Policy, said she had no idea how many states would be able to meet all those standards.

Limited Possibilities?

“It would appear under this that a whole bunch of states will be knocked off” at the start from the possibility of using the transitional options, Ms. Sullivan said. And, she said, students with persistent academic disabilities are not conveniently clustered in states that have met all of the Education Department’s requirements.

Robert Runkel,
Montana’s director of special education services, said he appreciates that the federal department is allowing more testing flexibility for states. However, under the new options, he believes only one school in his state would have been able to take advantage of the flexibility based on 2003-04 test results. That’s because only one school failed to make AYP solely because of the test scores of students in special education.

Montana has about 145,000 students in public education and 19,000, or 13 percent, in special education.

Mr. Runkel said that children with persistent academic disabilities would be reflected not only in the special education subgroup scores, but also in the scores of any other subgroups in which they fall. Thus, they could be pulling down a district’s scores in more than one category. The federal law requires schools to show progress not just with students overall, but with student subsets by race, socioeconomic status, and other factors, including participation in special education.

“I think there might be room for some flexibility in that circumstance,” Mr. Runkel said of students who fit into more than one group.

Other state officials praised the new rules. Patti Harrington, the superintendent of education for
Utah, a state that has been in the forefront of opposition to the 3-year-old federal law, said under the former AYP testing rules, some students with persistent academic difficulties were tested at a grade level that was inappropriate for them.

The changes “are doing the right thing by children,” Ms. Harrington said.

-----------

New NCLB Leeway

While the Department of Education drafts a regulation on the 2 percent flexibility rule for testing students with persistent academic disabilities, it is offering states two options as they calculate their test results for this school year.

Option 1: States that do not have modified achievement standards for students with disabilities may make an adjustment to provide additional credit to schools or districts that would miss making adequate yearly progress, or AYP, solely because of the achievement of students in that subgroup. Essentially, states will be able to add a “proxy” passing percentage to the proportion of special education students who actually passed the tests. The actual passing percentage plus the proxy would determine a school’s special education subgroup score.

Option 2: States that do have modified achievement standards for students with disabilities may count in AYP calculations the proficient scores of such students tested on those modified standards up to the 2 percent cap. States must also show they have administered tests based on modified standards for more than two years, established clear testing guidelines, used a valid method to craft the tests, and trained teachers in how to use them.

SOURCE:
U.S. Department of Education
 
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Administration Now Promoting Incentive Fund for Teachers 

By Bess Keller, Education Week, 5/18/05

President Bush’s top education lieutenants have given more attention lately to what would be a major boost to federal aid for improving teacher quality. But some call the proposed $500 million program to change the way teachers are paid a tough sell in Congress, and even tougher because administration officials waited until spring to raise its profile.

The Teacher Incentive Fund envisioned by the administration would give the states $450 million in the coming fiscal year to reward effective teachers, especially those who work in high-poverty schools. Under the program, an additional $50 million would be earmarked for helping states, districts, and nonprofit groups design performance-pay systems that could serve as models.

“If we expect results for every child, we must support teachers who are getting the job done in
America’s toughest classrooms,” Secretary of Education Margaret Spellings declared in a speech last month. Both she and Raymond J. Simon, the Department of Education’s acting deputy secretary, have mentioned the fund in speeches or congressional testimony over the past two months.

But some who like the idea criticize the administration for failing to champion it earlier.

“They’ve waited too long to make this a priority,” said Andrew J. Rotherham, the director of education policy at the Progressive Policy Institute, a Washington think tank affiliated with the Democratic Leadership Council. He noted that Mr. Bush in his State of the Union Address in January did not spotlight teacher quality.

Mr. Rotherham said a push to increase the number of skilled teachers in the neediest schools perfectly complements the achievement standards set under the No Child Left Behind Act.

The current budget includes almost $3 billion that could be spent on the goals set forth for the fund, but most of it is now used for programs that predate the accountability system of the Bush administration’s signature education law.

Money Is Tight

“If you really want to leverage change, you have to put new money on the table,” Mr. Rotherham argued. “Most of the money [currently in the budget] is flowing through existing funding streams,” such as for smaller classes.

But other observers, notably the nation’s largest teachers’ union, favor augmenting those streams. “Why do we need another program?” said Joel Packer, a lobbyist for the 2.7 million-member National Education Association.

“It’s an interesting kind of irony,” Mr. Packer added. “As opposed to simply putting more money in programs [the Bush administration and its supporters] created, they want to put money in this more narrow one.”

The NEA endorses the concept of more money for the most difficult teaching assignments, but it generally opposes linking pay to student achievement.

Whatever legislators think about the wisdom of setting up the new fund, finding money for it is expected to be tough. The president has proposed a nearly 1 percent cut to the Education Department’s discretionary spending, and the fiscal 2006 budget blueprint passed by Congress last month suggests that lawmakers are not inclined to increase Mr. Bush’s bottom-line number for purposes other than the most politically popular programs, such as vocational education and college scholarships. ("Budget Resolution Removes Extra Education Money," May 4, 2005.)

A Republican staff member for the House subcommittee that oversees education spending, headed by Rep. Ralph Regula, R-Ohio, said Mr. Regula might be more interested in pilot programs that alter the way teachers are paid, rather than in a huge new pot of money.

“If there is sufficient evidence that this is something we should support a little bit more,” the aide said, “then we could look into a new authorization.”

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