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State of Illinois - Governor Blagojevich 

News Clips

News Clips – May 27 to June 3, 2005

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STATE  
Lawmakers OK plan to balance budget by cutting pension payments / DeKalb Daily Chronicle
Lawmakers OK state budget / Pantagraph
State budget passes; schools get boost / Southern Illinoisan
Illinois lawmakers approve tougher graduation standards / Belleville News-Democrat
Budget no surprise to educators / Pantagraph
School building program may bring lawmakers back / Pantagraph
Lockport Twp. school may switch to flat-fee system / Daily Southtown
Vandals at Conant High do $100,000 in damage / Chicago Tribune
Superintendent: Metal detectors not needed / Northwest Indiana Times
Charter schools score high / Chicago Tribune
Class rank? It's going the way of slide rules / Chicago Tribune

School fashion police ease up on boys' 'bling' / Daily Southtown
Governor touts budget's bucks for education / Rockford Register Star
Lawmakers revive writing test / Chicago Sun-Times
School board member resigns over bill on governor’s desk / Daily Herald
SICA talks fall apart / Daily Southtown
Lawsuit settled in death of pupil / Chicago Tribune
Group objects to school nickname / Herald News
Higher standards benefit students / Belleville News-Democrat

NATIONAL
Beyond the promise / Denver Post
Testing law consumes education secretary / Philadelphia Inquirer
Thanks to No Child, schools can't hide / Indianapolis Star
Schools try to weigh threat risks / Minneapolis Star Tribune
We'll pass, say school boards to tax plan / Philadelphia Inquirer
Pa.'s major school privatization try fails / Boston Globe
School districts face bus driver shortage / Boston Globe
Dayton claims NCLB is immoral / Salt Lake Tribune
Local support lacking for NCLB / Washington Times
Why the Bible Belongs in America's Public Schools /
Los Angeles Times
State ed board won't join NCLB suit / Connecticut Post
Minorities support 'racist' tests / Christian Science Monitor
More cash won't avert layoffs, cuts at schools / Detroit News
School districts go 'back to square one' / Dallas Morning News
A Town's Struggle in the Culture War / New York Times
From pizza to pita / CNN.com

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STATE

Lawmakers OK plan to balance budget by cutting pension payments
Christopher Wills, Associated Press
 
SPRINGFIELD  - Democratic lawmakers voted Sunday to slash state contributions to government pension systems in an attempt to close a $1.2 billion budget shortfall and avoid a long partisan deadlock.
 
The move won't have any impact on retirees' monthly checks, but - like skipping a credit card payment - it would increase the state's long-term debt and cost more money over the next 40 years.
 
Republican opponents put the pricetag at $30 billion or more, although supporters say that would be offset by measures to cut future pension costs.
 
Critics called the move a scam that offers a temporary fix at the cost of saddling future taxpayers with billions of dollars in pension costs.
 
"This is not a solution to a budget. It's the beginning of a much worse problem," said Sen. Steve Rauschenberger, R-Elgin.
 
Even some Democrats who voted for it criticized both the plan and Gov. Rod Blagojevich's leadership.
 
"As the governor, he should be setting things into motion for the future and not only for his tenure," said Rep. William Delgado, D-Chicago. "This patchwork is sort of putting a Band-Aid on a shotgun wound."
 
But Blagojevich hailed the plan as a way to meet immediate needs without raising taxes and to impose new limits on future pension costs.
 
"It was the right vote to move our state forward," the governor said.
 
The plan calls for reducing state contributions to the pension systems for teachers, university employees and state workers. The state would pay about $2.2 billion less over the next two years than current law requires.
 
The money could then be used to close the deficit and increase spending for schools and health care.
 
Rep. Bill Black, R-Danville, accused Democrats of "mortgaging our future."
 
"You are playing with potential bankruptcy of the pension systems," he said.
 
Democratic supporters, however, claim the pension systems' long-term solvency won't suffer because the plan also includes provisions to control future pension costs. For instance, the state would cover less of the pension costs resulting from end-of-career pay raises for teachers.
 
"We are making real reforms," said Rep. Jay Hoffman, D-Collinsville.
 
Democrats have incentive to move quickly. After Tuesday, passing a budget will require a three-fifths vote instead of a simple majority. That would give Republicans, the minority in both chambers, veto power over any bills. Last year, disagreements over the budget led to a 54-day legislative overtime session.
 
Eager to avoid that, the Democratic majority in each chamber approved the plan Sunday without a single Republican in favor. The vote was 61-53 in the House and 32-26 in the Senate.
 
It took some deals and arm-twisting to make it happen.
 
Lawmakers from both parties said Democratic leaders were promising projects and programs in order to secure the votes of wavering legislators. Blagojevich spokeswoman Rebecca Rausch acknowledged the governor signed agreements with legislative leaders on some matters, but she said she did not have details.
 
The state owes about $2.1 billion to its pension systems next year under a law passed in 1995 to halt the long practice of shortchanging the systems. The retirement systems are now about $35 billion short of having the money they will eventually need to pay their obligations, among the worst records in the country.
 
Blagojevich called it "a crisis that we must solve" in his February budget address.
 
The Chicago Democrat originally proposed a two-part plan: making major changes in pension benefits that would hold down future costs, and reducing short-term payments into the retirement systems.
 
But union opposition meant he could not round up enough Democratic votes to pass the plan, and Republicans would not help.
 
So Blagojevich and the Legislature's Democratic leaders came up with a plan they could pass without Republican support. It drops many of the pension reforms Blagojevich originally wanted and adds an early retirement program for teachers to reduce union opposition.
 
It also leaves out the pension systems for lawmakers and judges.
 
James Dougherty, president of the Illinois Federation of Teachers, said he is "deeply concerned" with continuing the state's practice of using the pension systems as a state credit card.
 
Directors of the pension systems warn that the plan would weaken those systems, requiring the sale of more assets just to continue making payments to current retirees.

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Lawmakers OK state budget
Governor expected to sign it
By Kurt Erickson and Phil Davidson, Pantagraph, 6/1/05

SPRINGFIELD -- Fueled by more than $2 billion diverted from state pension funds, Illinois lawmakers approved a budget late Tuesday that boosts spending on schools and health care, as well as sprinkles dozens of special projects in the districts of Democratic lawmakers.

With Tuesday's
midnight deadline looming, Democrats steamrolled the budget plan through the House and Senate on a party line vote, avoiding a repeat of last year's record-setting overtime session.

The measure was pushed on to the floor of the House so hastily there was widespread disagreement on how big the package was. House Democrats and the governor's office pegged the budget at $58 billion, while Senate Republicans were listing it as $54 billion. The measure, expected to be signed by Gov. Rod Blagojevich, calls for $677 million in new spending and no tax increases in the fiscal year beginning July 1.

The added spending is bankrolled by a controversial diversion of more than $2 billion that would normally have been set aside to pay off the state's pension obligations.

Republicans accused their counterparts of funneling too much money into
Chicago, which is home to the governor and the two majority party leaders.

Members of the minority party identified more than $200 million in so-called pork-barrel spending, including $94,000 for an orchestra that accompanies the Joffrey Ballet in
Chicago and $450,000 for repairs to an alley in the Chicago suburb of Bellwood.

"What we're seeing is a lot of goodies going to
Chicago," said state Sen. Dale Risinger, R-Peoria.

State Rep. Bill Mitchell, R-Forsyth, said, "I think the public wants balance in their elected government and right now everything is so one-sided toward the city."

Republicans threatened to block the budget by taking legal action on two fronts: Treasurer Judy Baar Topinka said the pension diversion plan may be unconstitutional and lawmakers said a plan to transfer $166 million out of 200 special funds was illegal.

"This is a budget of deficits, deferrals, diversions and decline, not one of discipline and debate," said state Sen. Bill Brady, R-Bloomington.

Democrats defended the budget, saying it boosts education spending by about $313 million, with the state's share of spending on each public school student rising to $5,164 per student, up $200 from the current year.

"This is a budget we all can be proud of," said state Sen. Donne Trotter, D-Chicago, a chief architect of the plan.

Illinois State University will receive $80.4 million in state funding -- the same amount it received last year. The state will spend $7 million to build four group homes at Lincoln Developmental Center.

The state's share of Amtrak funding -- $12.1 million -- remains intact, but the state's road construction program has been slashed. Similarly, Blagojevich's plan to restore 25 positions at state parks was cut.

The boost in school funding would affect
Central Illinois schools at varying levels. Preliminary figures show the Olympia school district receiving no additional increase, while Normal-based Unit 5 would see a token $565 increase.

By contrast, the
Lincoln Elementary school district would receive an estimated $570,000 in new money and Bloomington's District 87 would receive a projected $278,890 increase.

Risinger said he opposed the increased spending, especially at a time when the state continues to have money troubles. "We ought to be holding the line on programs as far as I'm concerned," he said.

State Rep. Dan Brady, R-Bloomington, said the state's ongoing budget woes -- and Blagojevich's heavy reliance on one-time revenue sources -- could force lawmakers to hike taxes in the future.

"We will simply have to push for some type of major step towards new revenue for the state," said Dan Brady.

Though he voted against the budget, Dan Brady said one bright spot was the restoration of funds for the Crisis Nursery at The Children's Foundation in
Bloomington, which had stood to lose $125,000 -- or 43 percent of its funding -- under the governor's original budget proposal.

Along with spreading money to Democrats for special projects, the budget gives the Chicago Transit Authority $54 million in state funding.

The session ended without Blagojevich pursuing a plan to sell the state's student loan portfolio, a last-minute proposal that would have raised $500 million and cost 500 jobs. He also dropped a plan to boost taxes on cigarettes.
 
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State budget passes; schools get boost / Southern Illinoisan
By Shelby Sebens & Matt Adrian,
Southern Illinoisan, 6/1/05
 
SPRINGFIELD - Most local lawmakers applauded the estimated $54.4 billion state budget that emerged Tuesday, arguing that things could have been worse.

Democrats claim the Fiscal Year 2006 budget passed late last night is balanced and provides modest increases for education and other state programs.

"Unfortunately, I don't think we were in a position to make a whole lot of improvements but it's really just trying to hold our own," said Sen. Dan Reitz, D-Steeleville. "But I think this budget presents a lot less pain than we really thought a few months ago when we were trying to put it together," Reitz said.

The state will sweep surpluses from an estimated 180 special accounts that set aside money for specific government functions like aid to people who care for the developmentally disabled. The sweep would pump $160 million into the state budget.

A portion of the sweeps along with a series of pension reforms will be used to boost education spending by $330 million. The governor's education budget also raises per-pupil spending by $200 to $5,164.
 
Rep. John Bradley, D-Marion, liked the increase in per-pupil spending.

"The $200 raise in the foundation level is significantly geared toward helping
Southern Illinois schools because -of the financial situation we're in downstate," Bradley said.

The state will also be taking nearly $2 billion from the state's pension system over the next two years. The governor's budget depends on $820 million from state pensions being used to prop up this year's spending plan.

Critics have long argued that the state can't spend any future pension saving today that will not be realized until a few years down the road.

"We just have mortgaged state government for a lot of years to our kids, and to the next governor and to the next legislature," said state Sen. Dave Luechtefeld, R-Okawville. "(Blagojevich) has now put us in such a hole that I'm not real sure that you can, without a huge tax increase down the road, get us out of this problem."

Republicans also criticized a spending plan that at one point Tuesday included $219 million in pork projects for the Chicagoland area.

"A majority of the things that are benefiting are in
Chicago and downstate gets very little at all," said state Rep. Mike Bost, R-Murphysboro.

Some of the budget sweeteners included a $94,000 grant to the Chicago Sinfonietta, the Joffrey Ballet's official orchestra.

While other public universities face flat funding, Southern Illinois University is getting $225,000 more funds than last year. However, Southern's operating budget is less than requested, totaling $217,203,700.

The additional money, which totals $450,000, will be used for the Vince Demuzio Governmental Internship Program and a program to improve retention, matriculation and completion rates of minority students at both campuses.

The Illinois Department of Corrections still stands to lose an estimated 400 jobs in the new fiscal year. Department officials have said the loss won't interfere with operations, and attribute the drop to attrition.

State Rep. Brandon Phelps,
D-Norris City, recently talked to the governor about the department staffing situation, and has requested more funds.

"Medical malpractice is a crisis. Well, I believe this is a crisis too," Phelps said. "I think we're putting people's lives in jeopardy because they have to do two jobs at once."

Senate Bill 1548, the state's budget proposal, passed the House on a 63-52 vote. In the Senate it passed 32-26. Both votes were split along party lines.

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Illinois lawmakers approve tougher graduation standards
John O'Connor, Associated Press, 6/1/05
 
SPRINGFIELD, Ill. - Illinois high schools students will have to study more math, science and language arts under legislation state lawmakers sent to the governor Tuesday night.
 
The new standards require students in public high schools to take two years of science, three years of math, four years of English and two writing courses to graduate.
 
Advocates say
Illinois' current standards for public secondary school students lag behind those of other states, and they say the legislation would only raise those standards to about average. Illinois students can currently graduate with just one year of science, two years of math and three years of English, and there is no writing requirement.
 
"This will have a phenomenal effect on our high school students being able to compete in our society," said Rep. Calvin Giles, a Chicago Democrat who sponsored the measure, proposed earlier this spring by Gov. Rod Blagojevich.
 
The new standards would be phased in over four years. But Republicans, while calling it a laudable goal, questioned how financially struggling schools would be able to pay for it.
 
"We have enough trouble hiring math and science teachers as it is," said Rep. Terry Parke, R-Hoffman Estates. "You're going to raise the graduation standards; where are we going to find the teachers?"
 
Blagojevich originally tied the idea to increased funding for schools. He proposed a $140 million increase in funding for elementary and secondary schools last win. Then, in March, the Chicago Democrat gave in on a promise not to expand gambling and called for additional gambling positions on riverboat casinos to raise $300 million more for schools.
 
That plan was abandoned as Democrats worked out a different budget deal that instead saves the state money in the short-term by not paying as much into the state's pension system for teachers, university employees and state workers as required.
 
The budget approved Tuesday night includes an increase of about $314 million for schools.
 
"We must expect more from public education, and it is critical that we help
Illinois schoolchildren live up to these new requirements," Blagojevich said in a prepared statement. "They will prepare the next generation for the life that awaits them after high school."
 
Rep. Suzanne Bassi, R-Palatine, pointed out that the budget the General Assembly adopted Tuesday pours millions of dollars into Chicago schools.
Chicago schools already require the courses outlined in the legislation, Bassi said, but they graduate fewer students than suburban schools that don't have the requirements.
 
"They're doing it without this unfunded mandate that our eloquent and education-minded governor wants for a PR pop," Bassi said.

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Budget no surprise to educators
Officials: Schools get about as much money as expected
Phyllis Coulter and Michele Steinbacher, Bloomington Pantagraph, 6/2/05
 
BLOOMINGTON -- Central Illinois educators said Wednesday they weren't surprised by the money they will receive from the state budget lawmakers approved Tuesday night.

Although they hoped for more, officials at local public school districts,
Illinois State University and Heartland Community College said the budget contains about as much money as they expected to get. The fiscal year begins July 1.
 
The plan calls for raising funding for elementary and secondary schools by $314 million. About $215 million of that will go to raise the "foundation level" -- the minimum level of spending guaranteed for each student -- by $200, to $5,164.
 
School-funding advocates said the increase is better than nothing, but it still falls short of the increases of the past two years and per-pupil spending remains below what experts recommend.
 
"Some (districts) are winners and others losers in state funding," said Brock Butts,
Olympia school district business and operations manager.
 
Early numbers have
Olympia losing between $100,000 and $150,000 in state aid because enrollment fell 130 from 2,202 in fall 2003 to fall 2004. It is expected to fall another 100 by fall 2005.
 
Funding for many mandated items, including transportation and special education, has not increased, but expenses for those programs have, he said.
 
He said the district's revenues for next year don't match projected expenditures yet. "We're coming closer. We still have a little way to go," he said.
 
David Wood, chief financial and legal officer for
Bloomington's District 87, said he had mixed emotions regarding the state's new budget.
 
He's glad education's getting a boost, but the state failed to address the way schools are funded.
 
The state's habit of taking from one area to fund another one creates a problem in the long run, he said.
 
Lawmakers voted to underfund state pension systems to raise the education money.
 
"Education funding is still year to year," Wood said.
 
District 87 will receive $50,000 to $60,000 in new money because of the state aid increase, he said.
 
Since March, Tod Altenburg, chief financial officer for Normal-based Unit 5, forecast no increase from the state this year. He was pretty close because early numbers show Unit 5 is set to receive a $565 increase.
 
"This is first time I've been that close," said
Altenburg.
 
Higher education
 
The General Assembly's plan gives
Illinois State University the same funding awarded last year -- $80.4 million.
 
While that's better than a cut, it's not exactly good news, said campus officials.
 
In the last six years, ISU has foregone more than $65 million in spending from state funds, said ISU President Al Bowman.
 
"The challenge continues for us," he said.
 
Heartland Community College officials weren't surprised about their appropriation -- about $2.7 million, or roughly 6.5 percent less than last year.
 
"For the most part we built our budget around the expectations that we had, and they seem to be consistent with what this budget offers," Heartland spokeswoman Janet Hill-Getz. said.

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School building program may bring lawmakers back
Kurt Erickson, Pantagraph, 6/2/05
 
SPRINGFIELD -- Unfinished business could mean a change in vacation plans for Illinois lawmakers.
 
As the General Assembly was racing to beat a
midnight deadline Tuesday, Senate President Emil Jones, D-Chicago, warned that he may call lawmakers back to town later this summer to jump-start an idled school construction program.
 
"We may come back for special session to deal with another critical issue," Jones said in a speech to the Senate. "We still must deal with the issue of school construction. We've got to find the revenue stream to get that job done."
 
House Speaker Michael Madigan, D-Chicago, made no mention of a special session this summer in his closing remarks about midnight Tuesday to the House. The leaders of both chambers have to agree to call the session, or the governor can call one.
 
The state's school construction program has been out of cash since 2003. When it was going strong, scores of school districts across the state were able to combine local funds with state dollars to replace aging or inadequate classrooms.
 
Area districts that took advantage of the program include Normal-based Unit 5, Farmer City-based
Blue Ridge and Tri-Valley in Downs.
 
Jones' threat of a special session came as a surprise to some lawmakers because it was Jones who derailed the plan earlier this spring.
 
Under Gov. Rod Blagojevich's initial budget proposal, the governor wanted to boost the state's 98-cent-per-pack cigarette tax by 75 cents. The tax on the wholesale price of cigars and other tobacco items would go from 18 percent to 30 percent.
 
The increase would raise about $155 million a year and would be used to pay off bonds for school construction and road and bridge projects.
Jones, however, snuffed out the idea, saying a tobacco increase hike was a nonstarter. Without a revenue stream to pay off the debt, the plan fizzled.
 
In his speech to the Senate, Jones did not identify a way to pay for the program if he calls rank-and-file members back to the State Capitol.
 
Late Tuesday, as the spring session was coming to a close, Blagojevich told reporters he wasn't ruling out the possibility of a special session.
 
"Never say never," Blagojevich said. "We're not giving up on it yet. We're going to let a little time pass, let everybody kind of take a deep breath. Then we'll have some discussion and we'll see how things shake out."

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Lockport Twp. school may switch to flat-fee system
Andrea Hein, Daily Southtown, 6/2/05
 
Parents of
Lockport Township High School students may see a significant change in student fees for next school year.
 
School officials are considering switching from an a la carte payment system starting at $189 to an all-inclusive flat fee of $250 per student.
 
"We think what we're trying to recommend is a good value," said Tom Filipiak, business director for District 205.
 
Students now pay a minimum textbook rental and technology fee of $170 and a $19 charge that covers class dues, physical education and other costs. They also have to pay for materials used in their classes, such as art supplies or workbooks, and for extracurricular activities.
 
The average student paid $230 in fees this school year, with some paying as much as $350 or more, according to District 205.
 
Under the current system, the district either owed parents money or needed to collect an additional fee if a teen switched classes, Filipiak said. Parents also were writing checks throughout the year to pay for seasonal activities such as sports, and some students chose not to enroll in certain classes because of the additional fees, he said.
 
The proposed $250 fee would include textbook rental; course fees; workbooks; class dues; all co-curricular and athletic fees; admission to athletic, drama and musical events hosted at the high school; and other miscellaneous items.
 
Not included in the cost would be charges for parking permits, driver's education, summer school or admission to athletic events.
 
A goal of the flat fee is to encourage student attendance at school events. District 205 officials said studies show a strong correlation between taking part in school activities and academic success. They also said a flat fee would simplify and expedite billing and collection.
 
Before adopting a flat fee, District 205 school board members want to review past fee collection reports to make sure the district isn't collecting too much or not enough, Filipiak said.
 
The earliest the school board could vote on the flat-fee proposal is at its June 20 meeting.

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Vandals at Conant High do $100,000 in damage
Chicago Tribune, 6/2/05
 
HOFFMAN ESTATES -- Vandals who opened a fire hydrant Monday night outside Conant High School in Hoffman Estates caused an estimated $100,000 in damage to the school, police said Wednesday.
 
A neighbor of the school called authorities about
10 p.m. Monday to report the sound of rushing water. An open hydrant about 50 feet from the school, 700 E. Cougar Trail, sprayed water over pavement and sidewalks, underneath locked entrance doors and into the southwest corner of the building.
 
About 40,000 square feet of classrooms and corridors was flooded, school officials said.
 
"The vandals had plugged up an outside drain, which caused the water to run into the school" rather than into sewers, said Hoffman Estates police Lt. Rich Russo.
 
It was not known how long the hydrant was open, he said.
 
Conant Assistant Principal Jerry Trevino said most of the damage was to carpeting in five classrooms. Water inside the building reached as high as 6 inches in some areas, school officials said.
 
"Our main concern was getting the school ready for the next day, and we were up and running," Trevino said.

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Superintendent: Metal detectors not needed
To be effective, school's windows would need to be welded shut
Phil Rockrohr, NWI Times, 6/2/05
 
CALUMET CITY - The local high school district has rejected a request from a parent to install metal detectors in response to an Internet rumor.
 
After consulting with police from
Lansing and Calumet City, Superintendent Robert Wilhite recommended Tuesday that Thornton Fractional Township High School District 215 nix the idea.
 
"We have not had a need for metal detectors," Wilhite said.

Kathy Manno, president of the Board of Education, said Wednesday she supports the recommendation.
 
"Unless you really lock down every exit, you really don't have control," Manno said of metal detectors.
 
No incidents have occurred in District 215 that suggest the devices are needed, Wilhite said.
 
Both Lansing Police Chief Dan McDevitt and Calumet City Police Chief Pat O'Meara told District 215 that metal detectors will not be effective without major overhauls to the district's schools, Wilhite said.
 
Lansing police Cmdr. Chas Maricich, who was appointed to the District 215 board Tuesday, said metal detectors would not make the schools safer without welding windows closed.
 
If the windows were permanently shut, District 215 would have to install air-conditioning at
Thornton Fractional South High School in Lansing and Thornton Fractional North High School in Calumet City, Maricich said.
 
In addition, metal detectors would allow access to the schools from just one entrance, causing long lines and requiring adequate staffing to monitor the detectors, he said.
 
"Like we all know at airports, there is a large amount of time and cost involved," Maricich said. "For the Lansing Police Department, a lot of holes would have to be addressed before metal detectors would be effective."
 
In the most recent school shooting in the
United States, the guns were planted in the school during nonschool hours, he said.
 
District 215 would need to increase security while school is out of session to prevent such an incident.
 
The district considered metal detectors because a parent wrote an angry letter after students circulated a rumor on the Internet suggesting a gun or bomb could be found at one of the schools, Wilhite said.
 
The rumor was unfounded, he said.

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Charter schools score high
Chicago Tribune, 6/2/05
 
Chicago was late to join the nationwide charter school movement, but when it did, the city did it right.
 
Eight years and 27 charter schools later,
Chicago now offers valuable lessons that other districts looking to reform their school systems should emulate. That's according to a national report released Wednesday detailing how and why the 14,000 students attending Chicago charter schools generally are doing better than they would in their regular neighborhood schools.
 
The Chicago Public Schools system "has earned a well-deserved reputation for having one of the country's most thoughtful approaches to authorizing this new breed of independent public schools," according to the report by two University of Washington researchers for the Progressive Policy Institute. It was sponsored by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.
 
Charter schools are public schools free of many regulations governing neighborhood schools. In exchange for that freedom, they're held more accountable. If charter students don't perform well, if school finances are mismanaged, the schools risk getting closed in a hurry.
 
The report is as frank as it is dead-on about the controversies and politics surrounding charter schools in
Illinois: the hostility that suburban and Downstate school districts show toward charters, a state education board that consistently undermines them, teacher unions that feel threatened by charters' autonomy.
 
But most important is the report's focus on why Chicago's charter schools collectively perform better than regular neighborhood schools--higher graduation and attendance rates, better test scores and "wild popularity among families, with waiting lists as much as 10 times the number of seats available."
 
Chicago's secret lies in the quality of its charter school gatekeeper, the CPS office that authorizes charter schools. Rather than wait for proposals to fly over the transom, CPS aggressively recruits potential charter operators. Even then, it is selective. Between 80 percent and 85 percent of charter applications are rejected. Some cities, by contrast, rubber-stamp any half-baked proposal, and that shows in the lackluster quality of their schools. Competition alone isn't enough.
 
CPS conducts tough annual audits to closely monitor charters' financial management and legal compliance. The district makes its guidelines perfectly clear to charter operators. And CPS' charter school office has protected charter schools from ... CPS --or at least from central office bureaucrats who wish to meddle in charter school operations, the report states.
 
It helps that Mayor Richard Daley strongly supports charter schools, as does schools chief Arne Duncan. In one of the most ambitious school reform efforts in the country, both are now trying to make charters more than just a small experiment affecting only 3 percent of
Chicago's public school students. Daley's Renaissance 2010 initiative aims to create 100 high-quality new schools--many of which will be charters--in five years. Charters are not the entire answer to improving urban schools. But in eight years, Chicago has proved they're certainly an important part.

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Class rank? It's going the way of slide rules
At top high schools, longtime yardstick yields to concerns over competitive pressure
Jodi S. Cohen,
Chicago Tribune, 6/1/05
 
Bryan Dieckelman applied to college with a 3.59 grade-point average, earning all A's and B's at
Stevenson High School in Lincolnshire.
 
But in a fiercely competitive class of 1,032 seniors, Dieckelman will rank about 425th when he graduates Sunday, a number he says is deceiving.
 
"When you're up against this competition, your pretty-good GPA is lowered into a range where people don't think it's good," said Dieckelman, who doesn't believe his rank offers a fair portrait of his academic ability. "It hurts you when you apply to college."
 
Along with an increasing number of high-powered public high schools nationwide, Stevenson officials are considering eliminating individual class rank from student transcripts. Beginning next year, students at
Highland Park and Deerfield High Schools won't receive numerical rankings.
 
And at
New Trier High School, where students are grouped in percentile ranges, all rankings may be eliminated with the freshman class of 2006.
 
With pressure coming from students and parents, administrators at many prestigious schools contend that doing away with class rank will help relieve competition within the school--and, paradoxically, help students better compete for spots at the best colleges, which want only top-ranked applicants.
 
But though some college admissions directors support the move to dump rankings, others worry that they will lose one last check against grade inflation as A's and B's become ubiquitous.
 
Indeed, some B-average students will graduate in the bottom half of the Stevenson senior class. Every student in the top half--including Dieckelman, who plans to attend the University of Wisconsin at Madison--has at least a 3.37 grade-point average on a 5.0 scale, a so-called weighted system that gives students extra points for the most demanding classes.
 
Stevenson students put so much importance on class rank that some manipulate their schedules to take classes most likely to boost their standing.
 
That intense competition has helped fuel the movement away from class rankings. The numbers also can become meaningless, some administrators argue, as a fraction of a decimal can separate top-ranked students. Others contend it's unfair because a 3.0 GPA at a school such as New Trier can leave a student in the bottom of the class, but at the top at a less competitive school.
 
"Colleges will have to deal with this because it's a national trend that seems to be picking up momentum from everywhere," said Stevenson college counselor Sue Biemeret.
 
The
Lincolnshire school won't name a valedictorian for the first time in its 40-year history this year, and officials soon could decide to replace individual rankings with a system that groups students in 10 percent increments. As a test run, several colleges this year got only percentile rankings for Stevenson applicants, and the effect on admission is still being studied.

About 85 percent of public high schools rank students, according to a 2004 survey by the National Association for College Admission Counseling, based in
Alexandria, Va. The more affluent the school, the more likely it is to eliminate class rank, including Lake Forest High School, which was among the first in the area to do so with the Class of 2002.
 
About 19 percent of private schools still use rank.
 
College admissions officials are putting less weight on a student's rank when evaluating applicants. Last year, 28 percent of college officials said they placed "considerable importance" on class rank, compared with 42 percent in 1993.
 
"The public high schools are catching on to what the private schools caught on to a while back ... it doesn't pay to assign students rank," said David Hawkins, the association's public policy director. "They would rather colleges rely on transcripts. That, and the test scores."
 
But some college officials prefer to rely on grades, test scores, personal statements and class rank. They say the academic rigor of an applicant's high school is taken into account when evaluating rankings.
 
"We need to have a sense of how a student is doing with regard to classmates," said Northwestern director of admissions Keith Todd. "With more high schools giving higher grades, more students can look alike."
 
At Ohio State University, which gets up to 20,000 applications a year, admissions officials say losing class rank makes it more difficult to evaluate students at a time when there is also a cry to de-emphasize standardized test scores.
 
"You can begin to see the challenge that is developing in our ability to analyze and evaluate the academic part of a student's performance," said Mabel Freeman, assistant vice president of undergraduate admissions, who said about 20 percent of this year's applicants did not indicate their rank.
 
She expects an even tougher challenge if lower-achieving schools begin dropping rank.
 
"Everyone is familiar with a New Trier," Freeman said. "You can't just make assumptions about all high schools."
 
Other admissions directors, however, said they often agree with a high school's decision to abandon rank.
 
Simply put, "there are some very competitive high schools where class rank hurts the students," said Molly Arnold, director of admissions at
Illinois State University, one of the schools that participated in Stevenson's pilot study.
 
Arnold said 10 percent more Stevenson applicants were accepted this year when class rank wasn't included.
 
Removing class rank also can benefit students applying to
Indiana University, said admissions director Mary Ellen Anderson, who said that generally only students in the top half of their classes are admitted.
 
That can be difficult at competitive Highland Park and Deerfield High Schools, so officials voted in 2004 to eliminate rank beginning with next school year's senior class, said District 113 Supt. Ann Riebock.
 
That means Megan Dayno will be one of
Deerfield High School's last two valedictorians when she graduates Thursday with a 3.99 unweighted GPA after getting an A-minus in AP economics. The school also has a valedictorian with the highest weighted GPA.
 
A math superstar, Dayno said she avoided classes such as AP English to preserve her class rank.
 
"Originally I thought they should definitely keep it because it is good for students to be competitive," said Dayno, who will attend the
University of Pennsylvania. "Now I think it will be better not to have class rank. I mean, some people are .01 apart."
Her family knows that firsthand. Megan's twin sister, Courtney, will graduate 2nd in the class--with a 3.98 GPA.
 
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School fashion police ease up on boys' 'bling'
Kati Phillips, Daily Southtown, 6/1/05
 
Boys can wear their bling-bling to Community High School District 218 schools this fall.

The district's school board recently amended the dress code to allow boys to wear earrings on campus.
 
The change was recommended by a committee of students, parents, teachers, administrators and school board members because the original reason for banning the jewelry was outdated.
 
For at least a decade, male earrings were considered a sign of gang affiliation, Supt. Kevin Burns said.
 
"We've come to a point in time where that is no longer an issue. It is more of a fashion statement," he said.
 
District 218 is not a trendsetter when it comes to boy's fashion, said Brian Schwartz, general counsel for the Illinois Principals Association.
 
Most public schools have allowed boys to wear earrings since courts ruled in the early 1980s that earrings were a protected form of speech under the 14th Amendment, he said.
 
MTV helped disseminate the fashion statement from the East Coast to the Bible Belt, said Michael Carr, a spokesman for the National Association of Secondary School Principals.
 
Whether emulating singer George Michael or rapper Kanye West, boys have worn earrings to signal their sexuality, politics and socioeconomic status for more than two decades.
 
Male earrings even played a role in the origin of the slang term "bling-bling." A
New Orleans rapper is credited with coining the term in a 1999 lyric, "See my earring from a mile, bling-bling."
 
"It's just the policies that are catching up with the kids," Carr said.
Still, some south suburban students are being confronted by fashion police.
 
Michael Simonds, a 15-year-old freshman at
Tinley Park High School, said he was stopped in the hall May 18 by a security guard while running an errand for a teacher.
 
Simonds had tape over the ruby stud recently punched through his lobe at Claire's Boutique in Orland Square Mall to match his friends on the swim team.
 
He was told he had to take it out. He refused because he didn't want the piercing to close. His mother, Michelle Simonds, backed him up and picked him up from school. He wore a plastic stud to save the hole for the remainder of the school year.
 
"If girls can wear seven or eight earrings and boys can't wear one ... a lot of boys are getting tired of it," she said.
 
There is one group of teens at District 218 who won't have the option of wearing earrings next school year: male cadets in the ROTC program.
 
Under Marine Corps policy and ROTC operating procedures, girls are allowed to wear one stud in each ear when in uniform, said C.L. Resendez, senior military instructor at
Eisenhower High School in Blue Island.
 
Male cadets are not allowed to wear earrings ever, in school or out, he said.
 
"If you allow that to happen, it opens up a bag of worms," Resendez said.
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Governor touts budget's bucks for education
Rod Blagojevich blasts Republicans for not supporting capital spending.
By CHUCK SWEENY,
Rockford Register Star, 6/3/05

ROCKFORD -- A feisty Gov. Rod Blagojevich, officially in town Thursday to tout more funding for early childhood learning programs, boasted about all the goodness in the $54 billion budget he and Democratic legislators passed this week. He also blasted Republicans for opposing him.

"It was a good budget, a good session. We got more than $300 million more for education. We passed medical malpractice reform and workers' compensation reform to bring down the cost of doing business in
Illinois. We passed legislation to protect kids from excessively violent video games and we've put in higher graduation requirements," Blagojevich said at Circles of Learning, 5711 Wansford Way.

Republicans have been heaping scorn on the budget, saying it increases spending while shortchanging state pension funds by $2.2 billion over two years. But Blagojevich said the pension reforms he persuaded the Legislature to pass will save $30 billion to $40 billion over 40 years.

"We got five of seven reforms we wanted. We could have gotten all the pension reforms, and saved $150 billion, had the Republican leadership been willing to work with us in a bipartisan way to make some of these hard decisions,” he said.

The governor said he’s putting a greater percentage of General Revenue Funds into the pension funds than did his predecessors, Republicans George Ryan and Jim Edgar.

Blagojevich also scolded Republicans, specifically Brad Burzynski, R-Claire, and Dave Syverson, R-Rockford, for failing to help him pass a capital spending bill.

“A bipartisan capital bill would have meant extending U.S. 20 all the way to
Galena. It would have meant $50 million for the Main Street program and the interchange at Illinois 173. But Senator Burzynski and Senator Syverson ... voted against investments in their districts,” Blagojevich said.

Area Republican lawmakers said they didn’t vote for the governor’s capital bill because they were not sure how he intended to repay the bonds, and they feared Blagojevich would divert
Rockford money to Chicago.

“That giant sucking sound we hear is the sound of downstate tax dollars going to
Chicago,” Syverson said.

Blagojevich also confirmed that in a deal crafted by Rep. Chuck Jefferson, D-Rockford, the state will give $250,000, twice as much as expected, to Rockford’s CeaseFire program.

“We were able to work with Rep. Jefferson to double the funding for CeaseFire. It’s a program that’s working, tracking down the gangbangers, turning kids who might be apt to engage in antisocial behavior into neighborhood watchdogs,” Blagojevich said.

But the governor didn’t have good news for
Rockford’s EigerLab, which was promised $1.6 million in state cash more than a year ago.

He’d love to send the money, but the Republicans won’t let him.

“Ask Sen. Syverson and Sen. Burzynski to join us in a bipartisan way and pass a capital bill and don’t hold it hostage for the politics of your Republican leadership, because you’re not serving the people of your communities that want EigerLab,” he said.

Blagojevich started his
Rockford visit reading “If You Give A Mouse A Cookie” to Circle of Learning’s 4-year-olds. When he popped up at the preschool last year, the governor read “Casey at the Bat.”

The state sends $7.3 million a year to the Rockford Public Schools to assist early childhood programs in public schools and at nonprofit centers like Circle of Learning. An increase of $600,000 is expected next year, said Judy Johnson, who works with the district’s early learning programs.

Blagojevich said he has increased preschool funding by $90 million — 50 percent — over three years.

“The Rockford Early Learning Council said the money we’ve provided in the last three years for preschool gets us close to meeting the needs of 99 percent of the needs of at risk kids in the
Rockford community,” Blagojevich said.
 
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Lawmakers revive writing test
Chicago Sun-Times, 6/3/05

One year after the state eliminated its writing test for public elementary students, legislators decided to bring it back. In the state budget passed Tuesday, $2 million was set aside to restart the test as a pilot in 2006 and reinstate it for all schools in 2007. The state dropped the test last year, citing budget constraints and noting that only reading and math count under the federal No Child Left Behind law. Educators condemned the loss of the writing test, saying writing instruction would get short shrift if it wasn't tested. The reinstatement was pushed by Sen. Miguel del Valle (D-Chicago).
 
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School board member resigns over bill on governor’s desk
By Jason King, Daily Herald Staff Writer,
6/3/05

A bill sitting on Gov. Rod Blagojevich’s desk could alter the way the state governs the Round Lake-area school board if he signs it into law.

The bill amends 2002 legislation that established the finance authority that now controls the school district. Authority Chairman Ed Kula said he felt the bill, if ultimately signed, would help the district operate more efficiently.

The main change to the law will allow schools CEO Dennis Stonewall to dictate what appears on the school board’s monthly meeting agenda.

But a recent addition to the Round Lake-area school board said the law will do more than just improve efficiency and is resigning because of it.

Bonnie Doane, who ran unopposed in the April election for a seat on the school board, tendered her resignation on Wednesday, saying the law will neuter the school board. School board President Terre Ezyk announced Doane’s resignation at a meeting Thursday night.

“The current amendment … effectively places the (Board of Education) in the hands of a (school finance authority) employee, a situation I find inappropriate and counterproductive,” she wrote. “There is nothing worthwhile I can contribute in such an environment, nor do I see any way any board member will be able to act effectively as long as a (school finance authority) employee sets the agenda and in effect, runs the board meetings.”

The finance authority was established by the state in 2002, by law, in an effort to get the school district out of debt. The five-member panel holds final approval on all district business and appointed a chief executive officer, a chief education officer and a chief financial officer.

School board members have complained in the past about issues showing up on the agenda without accompanying information they say they need to render informed decisions.

Kula said earlier in the week the finance authority did not intend to usurp the powers of the school board when seeking the legislative change.

“I think it’s in response to the conditions as we see it, and some of the nuances that have occurred over the past few years as this relationship has developed,” he said. “We still want to work with, and continue to work with, the board of education.”

Ezyk said she did not see why the law needed to be changed, because Stonewall and other administrators craft the agendas already.

“I guess they want total control over something they already have control over,” she said.
 
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SICA talks fall apart
By Kati Phillips, Daily Southtown Staff writer, 6/3/05
 
Southland superintendents were two signatures away from ending a feud over racially segregated sports conferences Thursday.

Then a third party popped up, and the deal fell apart.

The two signatures belonged to Robert Wilhite and J. Kamala Buckner, the superintendents of Thornton Fractional High School District 215 and Thornton Township High School District 205, respectively.

They were to sign an agreement to drop a petition alleging racial segregation in the South Inter-Conference Association and join two, new white-majority conferences in 2006-07.

But they balked once the superintendent of a neighboring, black-majority school district got wind of the deal — after failing to return phone calls or attend meetings about it for weeks, sources said.

"We don't want to be left behind," said Rich Township School District 227 Supt. Howard Hunigan.

The late protest effectively killed the compromise favored by SICA members who want to mend the rift before Tuesday, when mediator Tom Roberts of the Center for Conflict Resolution enters the fray.

"It looks like we are headed to mediation," said SICA attorney Burt Odelson.

The SICA controversy erupted when five conferences were consolidated into three based on geography for the 2005-06 school year.

The change drew a conference boundary along Interstate 57, isolating black-majority and high-poverty schools.

Shortly after superintendents from Districts 205, 215 and 227 went public with complaints of racial segregation last winter, schools started to split from SICA to form their own conferences.

First, the largest and most affluent schools announced they would become the SouthWest Suburban Conference starting next school year.

Next came the split of schools known as the North-Central division, which encompasses
Oak Lawn, Oak Forest and Blue Island, for the 2006-07 school year.

Buckner and Wilhite raised the stakes in May, filing a petition for a public hearing on racial segregation before the Illinois State Board of Education.

The possibility of that bad publicity and some sort of state desegregation order brought SICA leaders to the bargaining table, sources said.

They offered to add District 215's schools and Thornridge into the North-Central conference in 2006-07. Thornton and Thornwood schools in District 205 would go with the SouthWest Suburban Conference that same year.

In a closed-door meeting Tuesday, District 215's school board recommended signing the agreement because it reunites the district's schools with their longtime rivals and is racially diverse, sources say.

In a similar closed-door meeting Wednesday, District 205 went a different route. No matter that the deal got them games with top, white-majority schools, the board wanted to fight for access for all minority schools, sources said.

"We are at a critical sticking point," Wilhite said.

The idea of adding more schools from the east side of Interstate 57 into the SouthWest and North-Central conferences was a deal buster. The high schools east of I-57 are Crete-Monee,
Kankakee, Bloom Township, Rich Central, East and South.The merge reintroduces travel times of more than an hour for games and requires competition between schools with different sports offerings.

"It defeats the purpose of starting our own conference," Odelson said of the North-Central group.

In the end, no superintendents signed any agreements. Negotiations will resume today.
 
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Lawsuit settled in death of pupil
School district to pay parents $2 million
By Lisa Black, Chicago Tribune staff reporter,
6/3/05

A trial that offered graphic descriptions of a 6th grader's frantic final moments as she choked on marshmallows ended abruptly Thursday when a settlement was reached in her parents' wrongful-death lawsuit.

John and Therese Fish agreed to a $2 million settlement with Glenview Elementary School District 34 and a teacher six years after the death of their daughter.

Catherine "Casey" Fish was 12 when she suffocated after playing Chubby Bunny at school, a game in which full-size marshmallows are placed in the mouth one at a time until the person can't say "chubby bunny."

"We're happy it's over," John Fish said as the couple left the
Cook County courtroom at the Daley Center. "I'd say it's a parent's worst nightmare, but nightmares end."

Casey was playing the game with several friends at Hoffman Elementary School before she was rushed to Glenbrook Hospital in Glenview and died shortly afterward on June 4, 1999.

The accord came eight days into the trial. The defendants were the school district and teacher Kevin Dorken, 36, who had left the classroom on an errand when the incident occurred.

During the trial, the Fishes said Casey was left unattended while she and other children played the game. The school district's attorney attempted to cast doubt on the cause of death and said the pupils were properly supervised during the game.

Two teachers overseeing other games were working in adjoining classrooms separated by partitions left partially open, attorney Thomas DiCianni said.

Casey's parents and Dorken had been expected to testify Thursday.

"The entire purpose of this suit has been to inform and warn parents of the dangers of this game and all food games," John Fish said. "We don't want any other child to suffer what our child did."

Therese Fish, dabbing back tears, said, "I just don't want anyone to go through my pain."

The couple are scheduled to appear on "Good Morning America" on Friday.

Besides the settlement, which will be paid by the district's insurance company, officials offered to start a memorial in Casey's name, district spokesman Brett Clark said.

"Under the circumstances, the settlement is the best resolution," said District 34 Supt. Gerald Hill. "The tragic accident was just devastating to a lot of people. My heart goes out to the Fishes."

DiCianni said a mid-trial settlement is not unusual for this type of case and was not an admission of guilt.

"There would have been no winners taking this to the end," he said.

Dorken, recently hired as a
Winnetka elementary school principal, left the courthouse without comment.

During the trial, Elissa Henricks, 18, described how she watched her best friend in distress, her face and lips turning purple as she struggled to breathe after stuffing three or four marshmallows into her mouth.

Casey took a few steps to a water fountain and tapped Henricks on the shoulder, signaling that she needed help, according to Henricks' testimony. Casey collapsed as Henricks ran across a hallway to find a teacher.

School officials called paramedics, attempted the Heimlich maneuver and administered CPR.

Had she survived, Casey would have graduated with Henricks from
Glenbrook South High School in Glenview on Sunday, said Francis Patrick Murphy, an attorney for the Fishes.

"I think the jury really saw Casey in Elissa," Murphy said Thursday.

Although the trial is over for the school district, it has generated controversy in
Winnetka, where parents learned recently about Dorken's involvement. Dorken has been named principal at Greeley Elementary School, in Winnetka District 36, officials said.


District 36 Supt. Rebecca van der Bogert was aware of Dorken's involvement in the case when she hired him but chose not to share the information with the school board or principal search team, she said. He was the most qualified of 50 applicants, she said during a recent school board meeting crammed with angry parents.

"I'm very concerned that the superintendent chose to unilaterally withhold this information," said parent Marcus Katz on Thursday.

After Casey's death, her parents appeared on "Oprah," and school officials contacted other districts to warn them about the hazards of Chubby Bunny.

But some youth groups continue to play it.

At
Freed-Hardeman University, a private Christian college in Henderson, Tenn., members of a social club have displayed on a Web site photos of young men with marshmallows oozing from their mouths as they played the game in October.

"Since we've been made aware of the situation, we'll pay more attention to the game," said Jud Davis, director of marketing at the school.
 
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Group objects to school nickname
Lemont Indians?: Name change opposed by Native American Bar Association
By Kati Phillips, SPECIAL TO THE HERALD NEWS, 6/3/05

LEMONT — The president of the Illinois Native American Bar Association says it's unacceptable for
Lemont High School to change its nickname to Indians.

Kim Edward Cook said his group will discourage the
Lemont High School District from holding a community vote on whether the school nickname should remain the Titans or change to Indians as a compromise.

The school board could approve a nickname election as soon as June 13.

Cook said someone from the bar association "will go to that meeting and or write a letter before then."

The school board decided last fall to drop the school's longtime nickname, Injuns, because it was derogatory to Native Americans. That decision came a few years after the Native American group asked the school district to stop using the nickname.

The school board held a communitywide vote in January and February to choose a new nickname, and Titans won. But that wasn't the end of the controversy.

Three new board members were elected April 5, after pledging to hold another community vote — a run-off between Titans and Indians, which was Lemont High's nickname before it evolved into Injuns during the 1960s. The new board members view the Indians nickname as an unoffensive compromise.

Board members discussed the nickname issue Tuesday night during a workshop. A major concern is whether the district should risk legal action by allowing a Native American nickname to be adopted.

"The potential for a lawsuit is there if we go back," board President Al Bromberek said.

The district's lawyer estimated it would cost at least $30,000 to defend a lawsuit prior to trial, Bromberek said. After that, the cost of litigation through a trial is anyone's guess, he said.

Some residents have told board members that they don't want their tax dollars spent on a frivolous lawsuit.

The board could limit the voting to taxpayers, but that would prevent key segments of the school community, students and alumni, from having a voice on the issue, board members said.

Other options include raising money for a legal defense fund or avoiding a lawsuit altogether by sticking with Titans. The board also could postpone adopting Titans and keep Injuns for another school year while it mulls what to do, Bromberek said.

Board member Tony Armijo said his impression is that some sort of community vote will happen this fall, but that's still up for discussion.

"I'm pretty confident there will be a vote, but I am not sure when or what the dynamics will be,"
Armijo said.
 
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Higher standards benefit students
Belleville News-Democrat Editorial, 6/3/05

Lawmakers raised the bar for
Illinois high school students this week when they approved tougher graduation requirements. These changes are welcome and long overdue.

The higher graduation standards will be phased in during the next several years. Beginning with the freshman class of 2008-09, students will have to take:

• three years of math;

• two years of science;

• four years of English;

• two years of "writing intensive" courses.

Illinois will by no means be a curriculum leader in the nation, but at least this will bring us out of the educational basement. According to a recent survey by the nonprofit group Achieve Inc. in Washington, D.C., Illinois is currently one of six states -- out of 42 states that set graduation requirements -- to require just three years of English. Only Illinois and 12 other states require just two years of math. Illinois' current science requirement is considered the lowest of the 42 states.

Remember, this is the state that requires four years of physical education.

Illinois has known for years it needed to do better in other subjects, but resisted the higher standards because of the costs involved -- an estimated $50 million to phase in the changes. We think the costs are greatly overstated. The taxpayers are already paying for kids to be educated; this is just a shift of what they will be learning.

It's important that we keep pushing to better prepare students for college or jobs. The Achieve study reports that college professors and business operators say most high school students have poor or just fair math and English skills.

If we expect
Illinois children to compete in the global marketplace, we have to close the achievement gap. More stringent requirements in the critical areas of language, math and science are steps in the right direction.
 
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===========================================================================

NATIONAL

Beyond the promise
By Jana Caldwell, Director of Communications for the
Colorado Association of School Executives, Denver Post, 5/31/05
 
(This article is a condensed position paper developed jointly by the Colorado Association of School Executives, the Colorado Association of School Boards, the Colorado Education Association, and the Colorado BOCES Association. The full paper is available at www.co-case.org.)
 
The mission of our public schools is changing. It is no longer sufficient for children to have opportunities for a good education; now all students are expected to demonstrate high levels of learning. This change in mission is borne out in the No Child Left Behind Act, which became federal law in 2002.

The promise of No Child Left Behind is great. Educators are more focused on closing the learning gap between different groups of students while at the same time increasing achievement for all students. Educators are using data to track student progress and research-based instructional methods to better meet student needs. The law encourages more engagement of parents in the learning process and requires more precise targeting of resources.

There are multiple ways of accomplishing the goals of NCLB, which are reflected in state plans required by the law.
Colorado's plan is basic and therefore lacks the flexibility needed for schools to be successful. The associations that represent professional educators across the state have asked to collaborate with the state Department of Education to jointly seek changes to requirements of the law that do not make sense in a Colorado context.

What needs to change?

Special education: While students with disabilities need to meet 

high standards through rigorous learning opportunities, many contradictions exist between NCLB and another federal law, the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act. These contradictions primarily have to do with how progress of students with disabilities is measured. Broad evidence of learning should be accumulated to measure the performance of students with disabilities for purposes of meeting NCLB requirements.

A number of school districts in
Colorado achieved at levels that, in any other walk of life, would be considered exemplary. Yet under the "all or nothing" rules of NCLB, these districts are labeled as having failed to meet annual learning requirements. For example, last year Boulder Valley Schools met 140 of 142 required performance targets, Littleton Schools met 124 of 128 targets, and Durango Schools met 91 of 94 targets. These districts missed their targets primarily because of the performance of a small number of students with disabilities.

English language learners: Schools that have large numbers of students learning English face unique challenges. Most experts believe, and research suggests, that transition into the English language can take up to seven years. Currently, students who are learning English must be tested both in English proficiency and in the subject content. For those students, schools should be able to use English proficiency as a measure of achievement rather than substantive content knowledge for a three-year period.

Tracking of annual progress: NCLB requires annual progress for all students until they become academically proficient in core subjects. Because of the challenges many students face, they are far from reaching academic proficiency. Nonetheless, many of these students are showing substantial growth. However, student growth is not reflected in NCLB reporting requirements.

Other, more technical requirements of the law pertain to how schools are identified as failing to meet adequate yearly progress. These issues need to be addressed to allow for accurate and fair reporting of annual progress.

Struggling schools: The law requires that consistently low-performing schools receive technical support from the state to help them achieve adequate yearly progress. Currently the state Department of Education provides limited assistance to low-achieving schools in the form of school support teams. More genuine collaboration is needed to identify resources and to develop a state plan for using support teams to address the needs of struggling schools.

Highly qualified teachers: NCLB requires all teachers of core academic subjects to be highly qualified by next school year. Every school and district in our state strives to have the best teachers in the classroom. The realities of supply and demand, particularly in rural
Colorado, make that requirement challenging to meet.

States determine their own definitions of what makes a highly qualified teacher.
Colorado has stricter requirements than surrounding states, adding to the challenge of recruitment. More flexibility is needed to permit rural school districts to hire teachers from other states, even if those teachers do not initially meet Colorado requirements. Another issue is ensuring that our veteran, successful teachers have more flexibility in demonstrating their qualifications.

Supplemental Services and Choice: Because NCLB was developed with urban rather than rural students in mind, some of the requirements for providing extra help and choice to struggling students are unrealistic in
Colorado. Supplemental services are often not available in rural areas. Also, this option is limited to low-income children and not necessarily available to those who most need help.

Most rural districts have only one school at each level and are unable to offer real choice. Geographic distances make travel to schools in other districts impractical and expensive.

Funding for NCLB: Achieving universal proficiency will require significant resources to help struggling students. While
Colorado has received additional dollars to implement NCLB, the rigid spending requirements of the federal law mean that resources in many districts cannot be used where they are most needed to help struggling students. Some districts have been forced to cut much-needed staff in order to meet program funding requirements of the federal law.

As long as the federal government continues to only partially fund NCLB, school districts should be required to follow NCLB requirements only if they choose to do so. Additionally, educators and the state Department of Education should jointly seek greater flexibility from the U.S. Department of Education in how federal dollars are used to accomplish the goals of NCLB.

Indeed, each of the issues outlined above can be addressed by a collaborative effort of educators and the Department of Education to make changes to the
Colorado plan and to seek waivers or changes in the federal law.

One of the biggest barriers to achieving the promise of NCLB is the lack of capacity in our schools and districts to meet these new expectations. Shifting our education system from one where many students achieve to one where all students are proficient is a huge undertaking - one that takes time and adequate resources to accomplish. The people in our system need preparation and support to make this shift successful, prticularly for our lowest-performing students.

If educators and policymakers are able to be thoughtful and deliberate in their approach to changing the system, if we capitalize on the quality and experience among the ranks of our professional educators, if we tap into the knowledge and aspirations of parents and community members, then we believe our schools can be successful. Our students deserve no less than our best efforts to fulfill this new mission.
 
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Testing law consumes education secretary
By Steve Goldstein,
Philadelphia Inquirer Washington Bureau, 5/29/05

WASHINGTON - There are two unfulfilled passions in Margaret Spellings' life. Trained in voice and piano, she dreams of being a torch singer. The other, yet within reach, is domestic diva-hood, goddess of grand dinner parties, a la another woman with the initials M.S.

First, though, for the Texas-bred secretary of education, there is the pressing matter of riding herd over the federal No Child Left Behind Act.

The controversial education law requiring annual state testing in reading and math has inspired outright rebellion in
Utah and Connecticut and bubbling resentment in a number of other states. Not only school officials have been vocal on the matter.

"The Leave No Child Behind Act is destroying public education in
America," Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid (D., Nev.) said earlier this month.

Spellings, who got the job four months ago and has been consumed with the education act from the outset, has more than a professional obligation. A former education lobbyist in Austin and an adviser to President Bush when he was governor of
Texas, Spellings helped craft the legislation when she moved to the White House in 2001 as domestic policy chief.

She recently termed "un-American" any opposition to the idea of closing the achievement gap between minority and white students, prompting a sharp rebuke from her perceived targets.

"I think it's appalling," said Patty Harrington,
Utah's superintendent of public instruction. "When people begin to lose the debate on issues, they resort to name-calling."

In a letter to Spellings,
Connecticut schools chief Betty Sternberg said the last time that phrase was used "was a very dark part of our history."

Spellings is unmoved. As the first education secretary with school-age children (Grace, 13, and Mary, 18), she analogizes that, as with children, the three-year-old law "has grown up, and our child has gone through the Terrible Twos... . We've gathered experience."

Though she has recently granted some flexibility to states trying to implement the law, Spellings said she won't spare the rod with the rebels.

"If there's a complete rejection of NCLB, as in
Utah's case, they could lose as much as $76 million," she said. "We say we want results for those kids - or you don't get the money."

Spellings, 47, has launched a kind of charm offensive of late, touting her willingness to work with school officials who play ball.

Born Margaret Dudar in
Michigan, she moved to Texas in the third grade and graduated from the University of Houston with a degree in political science and journalism.

As lobbyist for the Texas Association of School Boards in the late 1980s, her toughness earned her the nickname "princess of darkness" from teacher groups - she still has a black cape with that inscription - and attracted the attention of Bush adviser Karl Rove.

Rove arranged for her to brief Bush on education issues. When Bush was elected governor in 1994, she was hired as his education adviser in
Austin.

Austin lawyer Sandy Kress, a Democrat who became close to Spellings and worked with her on No Child Left Behind for Bush, said "she's a no-nonsense person but also funny as hell."

"She's tough," Kress went on. "She expects a lot. To people who don't get it or who are not engaged, she can appear intimidating."

And blunt.

Shortly after coming to the White House, Spellings appeared on C-Span's Washington Journal program in May 2001 and was asked about the decline of the traditional two-parent family.

"I guess I would respond to say, 'So what?' There are lots of different types of family. I, myself, am a single mom," she replied.

Conservatives did not like that remark. Columnist Robert Novak wrote that it showed she "is out of touch with Republican cultural values."

In January, barely a week after being sworn in as secretary, Spellings pleased conservatives when she fired off a letter to PBS, criticizing the network for featuring lesbian parents alongside Buster the bunny in a cartoon show.

"Congress and the department's purpose in funding this programming certainly was not to introduce this kind of subject matter to children," Spellings wrote to PBS president Pat Mitchell.

PBS decided not to distribute the program to its member stations. Not long after, Mitchell announced she would step down in June 2006 at the end of her second term.

Spellings said she saw no inconsistency in her two commentaries. "I thought we could promote literacy and numeracy as goals without getting into lifestyle choice... . Those are issues for families to discuss," she said of busting Buster.

Spellings, who divorced her first husband in 1997, remarried in 2001 to Robert Spellings, an
Austin lawyer who lobbied in Texas and Washington to promote school vouchers. She said she restricts what her girls watch on TV - Desperate Housewives is off-limits to her 13-year-old - and tries to organize family activities.

Of course, those family activities have included trips to
Camp David and the presidential box at the Kennedy Center. The girls gave her an iPod for Mother's Day with songs by the Dixie Chicks and the Police.

Sitting in her vast office with a view of the National Mall, Spellings said she was getting the hang of being an administrator.

"I've been to the George Bush school of management; I've got the Ph.D. program," she said. "Get good people. Stay focused. Do a few things. Do them well."

Spellings will probably only get to do one thing - No Child Left Behind.

"Change is hard. This is big-time," she said of the criticism. "We have never educated every child to his or her fullest potential in the history of the country."

Her goal is to avoid revamping the law prior to 2007, when it automatically comes up for reauthorization. To that end, she has been offering greater leeway in administering the tests and in other regulatory areas. In April, she gave some states some flexibility in testing students with disabilities.

"Changes need to be made as we put it in place and learn from our research," she said.

Not everyone is appeased.
Connecticut's Sternberg called the law "a one-size-fits-all approach."

Kress said he "would have been disappointed if NCLB hadn't fostered some passion and controversy. This proves it has some power, and it's forcing people to change."

Spellings is "a breath of fresh air," said Democrat Nancy Grasmick, who has been
Maryland state schools superintendent for 14 years. Grasmick believes the law is not fatally flawed but requires change in the way it is regulated.

Tom Loveless, an education policy expert at the Brookings Institution, said he's sympathetic to what Spellings has done thus far. "As with any federal legislation, there are details to be worked out that don't appear until the law is implemented," he said. "She's walking a tightrope," he said of Spellings.

"She seems to be telling people she's willing to compromise, and then not compromising very much," Loveless said. "For a
Washington politician, that may be effective."
 
---------------------------------

No Child Left Behind

Supporters say:

The requirements of the law produce test data showing true achievement gaps between white and minority schoolchildren.

Progress in closing the achievement gap will produce flexibility in administering the law.

Opponents say:

The law undermines states' rights and amounts to an unfunded federal mandate.

Annual assessment, as called for by the education law, is a one-size-fits-all-approach.
 
TOP OF PAGE

Thanks to No Child, schools can't hide
Indianapolis Star Editorial
 
Our position is: Criticism of the No Child Left Behind Act is misplaced.
 
Even by the standards of school reform, few elements have been as roundly criticized as the four-year-old No Child Left Behind Act.
 
The National Education Association, the nation's largest teachers union, complains that No Child's requirements for improving student achievement add more "punishments rather than assistance."
 
State and local officials call it an unfunded federal mandate; nine school districts hooked up with the NEA last month to sue the federal government for more funding. No Child's demand for "adequate yearly progress" does encourage a one-size-fits-all approach. Yet the unwillingness of state and local governments to improve schools is why No Child was enacted in the first place.
 
As Ross Wiener of The Education Trust points out, the lack of accountability measures in the Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965 had allowed state and local officials to hide the woeful performance of schools and ultimately neglect poor and minority students. Parents are now empowered, thanks to No Child's lists of underperforming schools, but states still have too much leeway in ratcheting down achievement standards.
Indiana, for example, can claim 95 percent of teachers in poor-performing schools are "highly qualified," even though poor test scores show otherwise.
 
Yet No Child has been the much-needed step in bringing greater attention to the problems that plague public schools. For that, it should be strengthened.
 
TOP OF PAGE

Schools try to weigh threat risks
Dan Wascoe,
Minneapolis Star Tribune, 5/30/05

The scrawled warning on a bathroom wall, the menacing Darth Vader voice on the phone, overheard threats of an angry teenager, a mailed note promising mayhem -- all have put dozens of
Minnesota school leaders on the spot this spring.

What to do? Evacuate the building? Cancel classes? Alert parents at once? Shut down the district? Keep kids and teachers in locked classrooms while officers and dogs check things out?

Responses have varied from threat to threat, district to district, and not every decision has found favor with parents.

Laurie Johnson, mother of a 17-year-old junior at
Anoka High School, was angry last week when a threat did not lead school officials to close the building.

"Nothing [harmful] happened, thankfully," Johnson said. "But it amazes me they could treat [students'] safety so lightly."

She acknowledged the difficulty of assessing the danger: "How do you know what's a viable threat and what isn't?"

But in light of potential tragedy, she said, schools should play it safe. As a parent she would have wanted the option of keeping her son home.

In early May, parent anxiety that built up over a weekend of rumors led New Prague officials to close the district's high school and middle school for a day. Waconia closed all four of its schools for three days after a series of anonymous threats.

Anoka-Hennepin, the state's largest district, has faced four threats this month.
Blaine High School was locked down, then evacuated for the rest of the school day. Students at Champlin Park High School were evacuated briefly to the school's athletic field before classes resumed. Oak View Middle School's classes were dismissed early but resumed the next day. But Anoka High remained in session, upsetting Johnson.

District spokeswoman Mary Olson said school officials, along with law enforcement officials, consider each threat separately and that in Anoka High's case, "we had more time to think" about what to do.

She said officials worry that notifying parents immediately of a threat might result in a rush to a targeted school, creating more confusion and perhaps endangering more people if a threat is real.

"I think years ago when there were bomb threats there was not much of a response," by school administrators, she said. Before the killings at Columbine High in
Colorado in 1999 and this year at Red Lake, "people looked at things differently," regarding many threats as "pranks at the end of the year."

She said that a parents' handbook next year will include "some strong statement" that threats are a felony and that students who make them face strong discipline.

In the nearby Robbinsdale School District, Superintendent Stan Mack said officials at Armstrong High School have reacted to a threat targeting the school Thursday by talking with students -- "listening, probing" -- consulting with Plymouth police and sending letters to parents.

"School will remain open unless the investigation reveals more specific information," said the letter from Principal David Dahl.

Mack said he spent several hours himself at Armstrong last week and detected little apprehension or anxiety among students he talked to.

The threats, written on restroom stalls, were not specific, he said, and officials have puzzled over why the maker of a serious threat would give notice. Tragic school episodes have come without explicit warnings, he said.

But he added, "We'll always respond if [police] tell us a threat is credible."

When threats are specific, he said, officials alert those identified as targets and tell them what is being done. Schools also alert parents in the affected building. Next year, Robbinsdale district parents will be able to get current threat information from a website that now offers updates on students' records. He also said that remodeled schools are routinely incorporating surveillance cameras, although they don't cover bathrooms and locker rooms.

The time, energy and money spent on such measures is frustrating, he said, because "our mission is to focus on education."
 
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We'll pass, say school boards to tax plan
"It's going down in flames," said a lawmaker. Act 72 would fund tax rebates with gambling money. Locally, only 7 districts accepted it.
By Dan Hardy, John Sullivan and Anthony R. Wood,
Philadelphia Inquirer Staff Writers, 5/28/05

The state law that offers school districts gambling revenues for property-tax rebates has been a resounding flop, with four of five school boards refusing to accept the money and the strings attached to it.

The deadline for school districts to make a decision is Monday, but few if any school boards will vote over the holiday weekend. Districts that do not vote are automatically excluded.

Statewide, 318 school districts voted not to accept the gambling money, while only 96 agreed to take it, according to the Pennsylvania School Boards Association Web site last night.

"It's going down in flames," said State Rep. Curt Schroder (R.,
Chester), a supporter of the law.

That is particularly true in the
Philadelphia suburbs.

Of the 64 suburban school districts in the
Philadelphia area, only seven have joined: Bensalem, Bristol Borough, Bristol Township, Chester Upland, Interboro, Southeast Delco and William Penn. Philadelphia was automatically entered into Act 72.

As a result, only about 5 percent of suburban homeowners will get property-tax relief, according to an Inquirer analysis.

In fact, more suburban residents will get tax relief from the City of
Philadelphia than from their local school districts.

Under state law,
Philadelphia automatically receives a city wage tax cut. About 100,000 suburbanites who work in Philadelphia will see their annual city wage taxes reduced on average by $150, based on state data and an Inquirer analysis.

Less than half of that - about 44,000 suburban residents - live in the school districts that agreed to participate in the property-tax plan, the Inquirer analysis shows.

The outcome was quite different from what Gov. Rendell predicted in April.

"In the coming months, we'll see school boards across the commonwealth make history by voting to provide property-tax relief to their residents," he wrote.

In the end, the uncertainties were too many, the money wasn't enough, and the unease with legislation that uses gaming dollars to fund tax relief was too great.

The law proposed to use a portion of gambling money for rebates averaging a few hundred dollars. In return, districts had to enact a 0.1 percent earned-income tax increase and conduct voter referendums on school budgets if tax hikes exceeded an annual inflation index.

School board members said they were sending a message to state legislators: Give us more state aid instead of raising our earned-income taxes and jeopardizing our educational programs by subjecting budgets to voter approval.

"We end up as the fall guys - the bad guys - for raising taxes, but the majority of our spending is mandated from the state," said Sandy Gibson, the school board president in Morrisville, which voted not to take the gambling money. "Something absolutely has do be done about funding school districts through property taxes. But the legislators have not done it with this legislation."

Proponents of the law - known as Act 72 - said school boards were unwilling to give voters veto power over budgets.

"Mostly, the board members I've talked to don't want to be held to any control on their spending," said Peter Messina, the school board president in
Delaware County's Interboro district, one of the few in the area to "opt in."

For all the law's failings, a switch to more reliance on an earned-income tax was a step forward, supporters said.

"Surely, no one would dispute that a different mix of taxes to support the public schools would be more equitable," said John McKelligott, the president of
Delaware County's William Penn School District.

During the months-long campaign to urge school boards to opt in, Rendell threatened to force school districts to join even if they voted no.

But Republican leaders said they were unlikely to consider any bill that would force districts to participate.

"We have to respect that we gave them a choice and they made it," Erik Arneson, chief of staff for Senate Majority Leader David J. "Chip" Brightbill (R., Lebanon).

Arneson and others pointed to a tangle of issues that are sure to arise in mandating participation, such as forcing schools that are morally opposed to gambling to accept money from slot machines.

"You saw a surprising number of school boards saying they don't want gambling money," said Drew Crompton, who serves as chief counsel to Senate President Pro Tempore Robert C. Jubelirer (R., Altoona), who opposed the legalization of slot machines.

A spokeswoman for the governor declined to speculate on what would happen next. "We have to examine what's in the best interest of taxpayers, and until we do we are not going to take a position on the next step," Kate Philips said.

Rendell signed a bill in July that allowed for the placement of up to 61,000 slot machines at 14 locations across the state. The Democratic governor has estimated that the slot machines will generate up to $1 billion for the state, beginning in 2007.

So what happens to the money left when hundreds of school districts abstain from the program?

Initially, Rendell said a larger share of the money could go to the districts that opt in. This week, though, the administration said property owners in those districts would get only slightly more money but get it sooner. Instead, much of the money will sit in a state fund and be used only for property-tax relief under the Act 72 formula.

That account will grow faster than anticipated because it will give money to fewer districts and, therefore, will reach higher payout thresholds sooner.

For example, the average homeowner in Bensalem would see his or her property tax reduced by $220 when the account reaches $500 million. But homeowners in the district would see that jump to $366 once the account hits $1 billion.

The money can only be used for another purpose if the General Assembly and the governor amend the act, which many say seems unlikely.

"I don't think people would want to spend that money on anything other than property-tax relief," Crompton said.
 
TOP OF PAGE

Pa.'s major school privatization try fails
By David B. Caruso, Associated Press Writer,
5/31/05 

CHESTER, Pa. -- Pennsylvania's first major experiment in school privatization is coming to an ugly end in this poverty-stricken city of abandoned buildings, vacant lots and closed-down shipyards on the outskirts of Philadelphia.
 
Edison Schools, a for-profit company hired four years ago to run eight of the city's nine schools, is pulling out in June, partly because it has not gotten paid about $4 million in fees.

The decision followed a tumultuous year that began poorly -- with book shortages, teacher shortages, and a riot at the high school that led to 28 arrests -- and got steadily worse, with
Edison at the mercy of local officials when it came to control over the district's finances and getting the information it needed to do its job.

Among other things, it turned out that the district's poor accounting concealed a $35 million budget deficit. District officials said recently that without an immediate loan to pay teachers, the system would have just $9 left in the bank.

"We have not been able to work well together,"
Edison spokesman Adam Tucker said. "We knew that we were no longer going to be enough of an active agent for positive change."

Michael F.X. Gillin, chairman of the state-appointed board that brought
Edison in, said the tempest has left him dispirited. Next year, he said, the district will reopen without private companies.

"At this point, that is probably the best thing that could happen," Gillin said, adding: "There are a lot of social problems down there. You can't just blame the administration or
Edison for the kids' low test scores."

Edison, founded in 1992, is the nation's biggest private operator of public schools. It runs about 157 public schools across the country, and has had mixed success.

Edison stayed only a short time in places like Dallas and Minneapolis, where officials concluded it hadn't improved things enough to justify its fees. In other districts, like Baltimore and Philadelphia, Edison has taken over hard-luck schools, produced improvements in student performance and won acceptance.

In 2001, a board installed by the state to oversee the woeful 6,000-student Chester Upland district brought in
Edison. The past year was especially turbulent.

In March, an elementary school that was infested with rats and contaminated with asbestos shut its doors after it was declared unfit for students. Hundreds of youngsters finished the year at another school.

A 28-year-old principal, hired in midwinter to turn around the high school, was charged in April with having sex with a 16-year-old student. Prosecutors dropped the charges last week after the girl recanted, but the incident left the school shaken.

Also in May, a principal who had presided over one of the few schools where Chester Upland students had shown significant improvement on standardized tests was fired over allegations that she had helped kids at another school cheat on exams.

District officials are now examining whether the gains shown by students at the Edison-operated school -- including a remarkable one-year 24 percent increase in math scores and 17 percent gain in reading scores -- were real.

Edison also found itself in a perpetual three-way power struggle with the board and the central administration. The contract did not allow Edison to hire or fire teachers. The company also did not control the district's finances and had limited ability to shift resources to places that needed them. It was not involved in generating the faulty information that hid the system's budget deficit.

Edison's Tucker said the company struggled just to get accurate information from the district on student enrollment.

Edison's experiences in Chester are a sharp contrast to its tenure in Philadelphia.

There, the company began work amid regular protests by hundreds of parents and students opposed to privatization. But after a few years, its reviews have been largely positive. Test scores at several schools have risen. Complaints about its ability to operate in a big city have dwindled.

"They have ceased being controversial," said Paul Vallas, the
Philadelphia school system's chief executive. "The bottom line is, they have done a fine job here."

Chester Upland school officials, meanwhile, are looking for a new superintendent and up to eight new principals to replace those who worked for
Edison.

Students leaving
Chester High School after classes last week expressed little confidence that the new management will be any more successful.

"I'd never send my child here," said Turquoise Blackwell, a 17-year-old senior.
 
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School districts face bus driver shortage
By Zinie Chen Sampson, Associated Press Writer,
5/31/05  

RICHMOND, Va. -- Wanted: Drivers to transport dozens of often-unruly students to school on a 38-foot bus through congested suburban traffic.
 
Requirements: Extensive training, criminal background checks and physical exams. Sincere affection for young people is strongly preferred, even when they're misbehaving.

Starting salary: $13,920.

Add noisy working conditions to the job description, and it's not surprising that many school districts are having a tough time hiring bus drivers. The effects are seen in drivers burdened with covering extra routes, and parents upset because their children are late getting to and from school.

At
Pinchbeck Elementary School in the Richmond suburb of Henrico County, the carpool line forms more than 20 minutes before dismissal, as parents idle in their minivans and sport utility vehicles.

Even though students can ride the bus, Tracy Rice said she'd rather go through this daily routine than have her two children get home more than an hour after school ends. Because they're on the second bus run, they would have to remain at school for 45 minutes until the driver returns from the first route.

"I spend my afternoons riding around," Rice said. "But that's OK."

Henrico County has 24 full-time bus drivers, plus 20 supervisors and others pulled in to cover routes, transportation supervisor Harold Grimes said. The average driver turnover is between 10 percent and 13 percent a year; there are now 23 driver vacancies.

Grimes said that besides balking at the starting salary of $13,920, or $10.69 an hour ($14,153 annually and $10.87 hourly for the upcoming school year), potential bus drivers also consider the responsibility involved, especially after recent bus accidents and violent incidents on buses.

"They're in charge with those children," Grimes said. "Plus it's hard to watch for the traffic. When it's added together, people say, 'Whoa, why am I trying to do this?'"

Virginia has had two fatal accidents this year -- a teenager was killed in February and last month two children died after their bus collided with a truck. And in Tennessee, a 14-year-old was charged with fatally shooting bus driver Joyce Gregory in March because he "hated her," according to a recorded statement played in court.

Earlier this month, a security camera on a school bus in
Punta Gorda, Fla., captured a fight between a substitute driver and two teens. The driver was charged with misdemeanor battery and the teens with assault.

The safety record of some drivers also is of concern. Earlier this year in
North Carolina, a bus driver who had been drinking was tracked down by authorities after one of his passengers called 911 from a cell phone and reported the man was asleep at the wheel.

The obvious way to attract drivers would be to boost salaries, but the prospects of that happening are slim, said Charlie Gauthier, executive director of the National Association of State Directors of Pupil Transportation Services.

"Let's face it, the education budget in most states is tight to say the least," he said. "In many states the buses, fuel, drivers, et cetera -- that part is competing with the same dollars as books, teacher salaries, computers and upgrading schools."

In
Boston, where a private contractor provides school bus drivers, the school district's cost cuts have resulted in the consolidation of routes, said Steve Gillis, president of Local 8751 of the United Steelworkers Association, which represents the drivers.

"There are too few drivers to get the job done," Gillis said. "The pressures that we are under are more children being put onto bus runs, more distance to travel in the same amount of time, routes are being designed to pick up children from four different schools in the same run."

In
Fairfax County, home to one of the nation's largest school districts, driver recruiting has fallen victim to the area's good economy. The affluent region's unemployment rate is 2.4 percent.

"Although we have people looking for work, they're not the kind of people we can use," including people with criminal records, driving violations or lack of English skills, said transportation director Linda Farbry.

Fairfax is among school divisions that have gone to great lengths to recruit drivers, including blanketing the region with mailings and fliers and offering bonuses to school and county employees who refer drivers who remain on the job for three months.

Megan Williams, a mother of four, thinks potential bus drivers don't want to put up with disrespectful children, for which she blames parents.

"I am part of the problem. I have four boys. They are the kind that don't sit still and say, 'Yes, ma'am, no, ma'am,'" Williams said. "I drive my van with my four kids in it and that's enough. I can't imagine a bus full of them."
 
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Dayton claims NCLB is immoral
In
Washington: The Utahn took part in a Cato Institute panel discussion on No Child Left Behind
By Robert Gehrke, The Salt
Lake Tribune, 6/1/05
 
WASHINGTON - After leading Utah's revolt against President Bush's No Child Left Behind education reform, Utah Rep. Margaret Dayton is challenging the underpinnings of the law, calling it unconstitutional and immoral.

Nina Rees, a senior official at the Department of Education, defended the law, citing surveys that show districts say they have seen improvements under the law.

“The fact that some organizations are threatening us with lawsuits is a healthy sign that the law is taking root,” said Rees, the assistant deputy education secretary for innovation and improvement.

Dayton has joined the vanguard in the movement to push back against No Child Left Behind. The Orem Republican has been widely quoted in newspapers and magazines across the country, decrying the failures in the law and demanding state and local governments be allowed to educate students as they see fit.

Utah wants to take care of Utah's children,” Dayton said as part of a panel discussion at the Cato Institute, a conservative-leaning libertarian think tank.

Dayton authored House Bill 1001, which passed in Utah's recent special legislative session. It gives preference to Utah's education standards in cases where they come into conflict with federal regulations.

But Lawrence Uzzell, a former Education Department staffer who warns against giving the federal government control over education, said that the revolt by
Utah and other states “is not going to make any fundamental difference.”

“As exhilarating as the
Utah rebellion may seem, it really is essentially irrelevant to the decisions that will determine whether No Child Left Behind works or not,” he said. Those decisions have already been made and “guarantee that No Child Left Behind will fail.”

Uzzell says the law imposes new reforms and standards that the states don't want. As a result, many have found ways to skirt the law, forcing the Education Department to make a decision: Should it give the states broad leeway in implementing the law, which makes the law unnecessary, or should it impose heavy-handed reforms which he said would be ineffective?

Rees said the department is facing challenges in how to enforce the law - it has taken action against three states that have not met the requirements. It also needs to expand school choice and provide parents with more information on school performance.

Utah has applied for a half-dozen waivers from various parts of the law, including one that would allow progress among special education   students to be measured individually, rather than testing them based on their grade level.

The state's waiver requests have been pending for months. Rees said discussions with the state are ongoing, but she can't say when a decision might be made, but it is important to remain patient.

Despite passage of HB1001, Rees said
Utah remains compliant with the law. That could change if the state decides to abandon the No Child Left Behind testing requirements in favor of its own testing regimen, known as U-Pass.

At that point, the state could lose as much as $76 million in federal education funding.
Dayton said education officials   have put the figure at $116 million.
  
TOP OF PAGE

Local support lacking for NCLB
By George Archibald,
Washington Times, 6/1/05

Federal enforcers of the No Child Left Behind Act need to win local support to close the school achievement gap between white and minority children, Nina Rees, assistant deputy education secretary, told a
Washington forum yesterday.

"We're not convinced the message is seeping in fast enough at the local level to make the difference," Mrs. Rees told a Cato Institute audience that included a Utah state legislator who led a successful rebellion against federal control of schools in her state.
  
Faced with tough criticism of unconstitutional consolidation of power in
Washington over schools, Mrs. Rees said enforcement of the law has become the Department of Education's greatest challenge since NCLB's inception three years ago.

"We're going to take a hard line against states that have blatantly violated the law," she said, citing sanctions against Georgia and Minnesota for dragging their feet on student testing and against Texas for failing to determine adequate yearly progress of schools on time.

State Rep. Margaret Dayton, the Republican lawmaker who forged near-unanimous bipartisan support in
Utah's state legislature for her bill to put state academic requirements ahead of the federal dictates on states' rights grounds, said federal requirements are too stringent. She said the call for 100 percent student grade-level proficiency in reading and math by 2014 is at odds with federal statutes for education of handicapped children.

The federal Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) does not require grade-level proficiency for children with learning disabilities, but instead calls for individual education plans so that handicapped students can "achieve at their ultimate best level" according to their own abilities, she said.

"I think it is really an immoral thing to test these children above their ability," Mrs. Dayton told the forum.

Lawrence A. Uzzell, a department policy official during the Reagan administration, leveled a stinging critique comparing the federal act to Soviet-style top-down micromanagement.

"The administration recognizes that the educational policies of the last four decades, a period of almost uninterrupted centralization, have failed, but its remedy is yet more centralization," Mr. Uzzell said in a Cato paper prepared for the forum.

Both states and the federal government have failed to issue honest and reliable reports about student proficiency, teacher quality and academic progress of schools, he said.

Mr. Uzzell said the law "creates huge incentives for states to make tests easier."

"Students are being measured by a rubber yardstick," he said.

However, Chester E. Finn Jr., president of the Thomas B. Fordham Foundation and senior scholar of the Hoover Institution at Stanford University, said the law is "empowering people with more information than they've ever had before" about public school accomplishments.

"The sunshine elements will be its greatest success," he said.
 
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Why the Bible Belongs in
America's Public Schools
Without knowing Scripture, kids can't understand literature or
U.S. history.
Commentary by David Gelernter,
Los Angeles Times, 5/27/05

Teaching the Bible in public school raises ticklish problems. Because our public schools must not be used for preaching religion, they must teach the Bible purely as literature. And they must teach it tactfully, in light of the radically different viewpoints of various religious (and irreligious) communities in the
United States.

But without knowing the Bible, you can't begin to understand English literature or American history. And a recently published survey finds that American teenagers don't know the Bible well enough. (The study was commissioned by a group called the Bible Literacy Project, conducted by
Gallup and funded by the John Templeton Foundation.)
 
How to respond? Do we dare teach the Bible in our own public schools, built and staffed with our own money? Or do we surrender to Creeping Litigation Anxiety? To the fear that any course that includes the Bible is bound to provoke lawsuits — although there is nothing unconstitutional about teaching stories and language fundamental to American culture?

Some background: Shakespeare and the Bible in English are the twin foundations of English literature. Many believe that the Bible (especially the King James translation of 1611) is the more important twin by far. It "has influenced our literature more deeply than any other book," wrote the British scholar Arthur Quiller-Couch. Bible-blind students are apt to misconstrue "the implications, even the meaning" of what they read, wrote educator and critic Herman Northrop Frye.

Can you understand American culture without knowing the biblical context of "covenant," "promised land," "shining city on a hill"?

Further, the Bible and Bible-centered Protestantism are central to U.S. history — to your history if you are American, whether you are Protestant or not. The founders had varied beliefs, writes the philosopher-historian Michael Novak in "On Two Wings," but they found common ground "by appealing to the God of the Hebrews and the religious heritage of the Torah, a 'Biblical metaphysics.' "

And the Bible remained central throughout American history. Abraham Lincoln (for example) called Americans the "almost chosen people" — one of the most pregnant phrases in our history. His important speeches are steeped in the Bible.

To explore Bible knowledge in the
United States, the Bible Literacy Project survey addressed students and English teachers. Teachers listed references their students couldn't identify — from Noah and Moses to Cain, Abel, Absalom and Lazarus. Students did well on trivial questions — "identify Adam and Eve" — and badly on harder ones. Two-thirds hadn't heard about St. Paul and the road to Damascus. Slightly over a third recognized a quote from the Sermon on the Mount.

Most teachers described most of their students as Bible illiterates.

Litigation Anxiety complicates the problem. "Some educators expressed fear and discomfort over the issue of teaching the Bible in school," the report says. "Their desire to benefit their students, by teaching this important work, was not as strong as their fear of getting in trouble for doing so."

Children worry too. "The kids seem to think there is a very strict division," an
Illinois teacher said, "and that the Bible is not allowed in school."

Let's be clear: If the Bible is taught strictly as literature, it's sheer nonsense to claim that it is disallowed in public school. Where on Earth could people have got hold of that idea? (Hmmm.) According to Michael Johnson, attorney with the Alliance Defense Fund (which promotes Bible-as-literature courses, among other things), the ACLU routinely tries to discourage school districts from adopting such courses, by implying that they are unconstitutional — even when the curriculum has been painstakingly tweaked to be lawsuit-proof.

And let's not be coy about the underlying cultural context. Bible-reading used to be routine in public schools. Novak again: "Beginning about 1948, one Supreme Court case after another turned the judiciary (and the law schools) into aggressive enemies of religion in public life." The Bible began to seem tainted no matter how you planned to teach it.

Favoring Bible-as-literature courses doesn't imply that you favor religion in public schools, but you might fear litigation anyway. In
Odessa, Texas, more than 6,000 people signed a petition demanding an elective in Bible literacy. Opponents argued that it would invite lawsuits. Finally, the course was approved. In Frankenmuth, Mich., people argued for a year about such a course; the board finally turned it down.

Americans should demand that their children be taught what their cultural heritage (their literature, their history) is all about.

The great thundering secularist tide that swept the Bible out of public school education is about to turn. Tides always do.
Odessa is a portent.
 
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State ed board won't join NCLB suit
LINDA CONNER LAMBECK,
Connecticut Post, 6/2/05
 
HARTFORD — The State Board of Education won't be joining Attorney General Richard Blumenthal in the lawsuit he still plans to file against the federal government over its No Child Left Behind law.

The board voted Wednesday to table a motion approving the lawsuit without comment. After the meeting, however, several board members said they are not sure all other remedies had been exhausted in getting the U.S. Department of Education to lighten up on its costly demands.

Board member Lynne Farrell of
Shelton said a suit could work against the state. She'd rather the state show what it's doing to bridge the achievement gap and conform to the NCLB act than to sue.

"I just don't believe a lawsuit is the answer," she said.

Blumenthal, meanwhile, in a prepared statement Wednesday, said he still is planning to sue.

"These unfunded mandates are illegal and illogical, which is why the vast majority of
Connecticut citizens, educators and public officials strongly support a challenge in court," he said.

Blumenthal added he hopes to begin this action before any state or local funds are illegally spent on annual tests or other unfunded federal mandates.

The law requires annual testing in grades three through   eight in an effort to ensure all students can read and do math at proficient levels by 2013-14. The state is set to add tests in grades three, five and seven in the upcoming school year to comply with the law. It currently tests in grades four, six, eight and 10. State officials object to the added testing as unnecessary.

Blumenthal said he is continuing to consult with other states.

"The federal government's history of rigidity and irrationality on this subject leaves little reason for hope," he said.

Associate Commissioner of Education Fran Rabinowitz said that one high-level federal official objected
 
to the state moving its testing period from the fall to spring, even though the state's agreement allows it. Board member Donald Coolican, said, if nothing else, he expects the spring testing will help narrow the achievement gap because students will have a full year of instruction before being tested.

Blumenthal plans to argue that the federal law specifically forbids unfunded federal mandates and that state law precludes state or local funds from being used to pay for No Child Left Behind provisions.

In a 21-page letter sent to federal education officials late last week, Commissioner of Education Betty J.   Sternberg made several requests for modification in how the law is interpreted.

For example, she wants to waive the federal "highly qualified" teacher designation that could put some teachers out of a job and to test special education students at their appropriate instructional level.

Sternberg, who met with U.S. Secretary of Education Margaret Spellings, said she is not optimistic that the requests will be granted.

"I think if I had my way I think we're at the point where we have followed up every administrative remedy we could and the attorney general will decide what he has to do," Sternberg said.

As for the highly qualified   teacher requirement, Rabinowitz said any teacher certified prior to 1989 who did not major in the area in which they teach is vulnerable.
 
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Minorities support 'racist' tests
Commentary by Jonathan Zimmerman who teaches at
New York University's Steinhardt School of Education and is author of "Whose America: Culture Wars in the Public Schools," Christian Science Monitor, 6/2/05

NEW YORK – Last week, a group called the New York Collective of Radical Educators staged a protest against standardized testing.

Responding to recent reports about substantial gains for fourth-graders on citywide reading and writing examinations, the group argued that the improved scores reflect "drill-and-kill" test-preparation activities rather than real learning. Worst of all, protesters maintained, the entire testing enterprise discriminates against racial minorities. For blacks and Hispanics especially, they said, standardized tests inhibit academic achievement and increase the dropout rate.

The only problem is, blacks and Hispanics don't see it that way.

Over the past decade, public opinion surveys have demonstrated overwhelming support among racial minorities for high-stakes testing. In a 2003 study by the
Pew Hispanic Center, for example, three-quarters of Latinos said that standardized tests "should be used to determine whether students are promoted or can graduate." Two-thirds agreed that the federal government "should require states to set strict performance standards for public schools," as mandated under President Bush's No Child Left Behind (NCLB) Act.

Likewise, African-Americans favor high-stakes tests by large margins. To be sure, activist groups like the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People have criticized NCLB and state graduation exams. But the black rank and file tell another story.

According to a 1998 survey by Public Agenda, nearly 8 of 10 African-American parents want schools to test children and publicize black-white achievement differences, just as NCLB requires.Only 28 percent say that standardized tests are "culturally biased" against black children, as critics often maintain. Many of these critics work at schools of education, where the standardized test serves as a symbol of everything that's wrong with American teaching.

According to the Ed-School Gospel, as I call it, schools should reflect student interests, not the sterile demands of "the curriculum"; they should employ a wide variety of classroom materials, not just the district-approved textbook; they should promote group learning and cooperation; and they should evaluate each student based on her or his own progress, not on district or statewide norms.

In every way, the argument goes, standardized testing harms these goals. It ignores the interests of the individual student; it promotes needless competition and anxiety; it turns learning into a lock-step exercise, inhibiting exploration and imagination; and it measures students against an arbitrary standard, ignoring their idiosyncratic abilities and attributes.

As a professor at an American school of education, I share many of these concerns. But I also worry that the Ed-School Gospel blinds us to the concerns of American racial minorities, who simply don't see the world the way we do. They want classrooms that stress discipline, that follow a strict curriculum, and that help children succeed on - gasp! - standardized tests.

Especially if students live in chaotic or dangerous home environments, minority parents argue, they need the order and structure of a traditional school.

That doesn't mean minority parents are right, of course. But it does mean that the people who run our schools - and, especially, our schools of education - need to take these opinions into account. We can no longer dismiss high-stakes testing as "racist" when so many racial minorities want it.

Unfortunately, we also have a rich tradition of ignoring popular sentiment. Even John Dewey, the greatest tribune of modern American democracy and education, questioned whether citizens should influence school policy. "Are the schools doing what the people want them to do?" he asked in 1901.

"The schools are not doing, and cannot do," he continued, "what the people want until there is more unity, more definiteness, in the community's consciousness of its own needs; but it is the business of the school to forward this conception."

In other words, educators should tell the people what they really need. That's fine, so long as we listen to them as well.

Ed-school professors love to talk about "hearing the voices" of blacks and Hispanics, who are too often excluded from
America's educational dialogues. But when minorities express an opinion that we don't like, we turn a deaf ear. That's a lousy model for education, and an even worse one for democracy.

Whatever we think of
America's current testing craze, American racial minorities clearly endorse it. And if we dismiss their views out of hand, we'll be demeaning the very people whom we claim to defend.

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More cash won't avert layoffs, cuts at schools
Districts: Granholm's plan to boost funding isn't enough to protect class sizes, programs.
By Karen Bouffard, The
Detroit News, 6/2/05

School districts across
Michigan say they'll have to trim teachers and other staff, expand class sizes and reduce programs next fall -- even if they get the increase in school funding proposed by Gov. Jennifer Granholm.

A survey of more than 200 districts by the Michigan School Business Officials association found more than half expect to reduce their staff for the 2005-06 school year. A combined total of more than 2,000 education positions were eliminated this school year, the districts reported.

Michigan school officials say they'll boost class sizes and economize in everything from high school guidance staff, to all-day kindergarten, to fine arts programs.

"Music and sports are a stepping stone to college for a lot of kids," said William Morgan, whose two sons attend
Oak Park High School.

"When you start taking away programs, you start depriving kids with different talents, you're taking away opportunities for them to excel."

The Michigan Legislature has yet to vote on Granholm's school funding package, which would boost the minimum per-pupil state grant by $175, to $6,875 for children in grades K-8, plus an additional $50 for grades 9-12.

Among the findings by the association that represents some 1,800 school business officials:

• 51 percent of districts said they still would have to lay off employees, even with a state increase.

• 81 percent said they will reduce staff through attrition.

• 63 percent expect more children in each class.

• 65 percent expect to reduce spending on supplies and services.

"We're beginning to see more in terms of cuts that affect students," said Tom White, executive director of the organization.
 
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School districts go 'back to square one'
N. Texas: Failure to reform school finance surprises few
By KIM BREEN, The
Dallas Morning News, 6/2/05

When the clock ran out on school finance proposals over the weekend, educators shared disappointment and some relief.

They didn't get the help they had been waiting for, but at least the plan they opposed was averted.

Now, they say, it's time to face reality.

"Now that it's back to square one, we're back to putting together a plan based on no help from the Legislature,"
Plano schools superintendent Doug Otto said. "When you think about it, this has been a constant issue for three years. We have nowhere to turn with regard to accessing additional revenue. We're faced with a deficit budget and some tough decisions to have to make a year from now."

The district has made about $18 million in cuts over the last two years, including teaching positions. He expects the school board to pass a budget later this month that will require dipping into $5 million to $10 million of the district's reserves, representing about 2 percent of the district's budget.

In
Richardson, leaders have made $8 million in cuts to prepare for the coming year, including closing two schools.

Dallas Independent School District officials said they had prepared next year's budget on the assumption that the Legislature would not reach a resolution.

"The inaction that took place over the weekend just validated our reason for going to court,"
Dallas school spokesman Donald Claxton said. "They have had a history of not taking the action necessary. They had one more chance, and they failed again."

DISD administrators are proposing numerous cuts to balance the 2005-06 budget, which at one time included a $28 million deficit. The planned cost savings will include cutting 277 positions through attrition, eliminating two areas offices, reassigning 56 employees, and retiring 221 employees, who were offered incentives to retire.

'Just go home'

While school leaders held out hope there would be a resolution on school finance this session, few were shocked it didn't happen.

Given the option of another fruitless session or legislation that would have cost
Richardson $1.1 million, Assistant Superintendent Tony Harkleroad knew which way he wanted legislators to proceed: "Just go home."

He and his colleagues figured lawmakers could use a break and come back to the issue fresh.

"Some of the legislation was just so bad," he said.

District leaders throughout the area agreed the finance plans under consideration were inadequate, but many were crushed that nothing was accomplished despite their trips to
Austin and communication with legislators. Many finance leaders were juggling several budget proposals as they awaited word from the capital.

"I guess the good news is that we were pessimistic about the ability to solve the problem anyway, so we've been planning for the worst," said Mark Hyatt, assistant superintendent for support services at the Carrollton-Farmers Branch school district. "It's just that difficult a problem."

Like many others, the district is at the limit for what it can tax residents. It doesn't anticipate large scale cuts for the coming year, but educators live in a climate where new programs are nearly always an unaffordable luxury.

"Our approach is for the most part doing our best to keep doing at least what we've been doing and trim around the edges," Mr. Hyatt said.

Many school leaders predicted it would be the courts that would force reform.

The Texas Supreme Court hears arguments July 6 on whether state schools are unconstitutionally underfunded. A lower court has ordered the state to act or face a school shutdown Oct. 1.

In the last three decades, Mr. Harkleroad said, "no meaningful school finance bills" have come out of the Legislature without court intervention.

Still optimistic

Dr. Cathy Bryce, superintendent for the
Highland Park Independent School District, said she's disappointed at the outcome of the legislative session but optimistic about the future.

"At some point in time, the Legislature will be the deciding body, I think, that restructures school finance and builds adequate capacity for the future," she said. "My goal for them would be to look long term and put adequate capacity in there so people can plan for the future."

Officials in Southlake's Carroll school district had high hopes for school finance reform efforts, even forming a coalition to promote their views in
Austin. The property-wealthy school district in northeast Tarrant County already has had to forgo teacher raises in recent years and cut some elementary programs.

School board president Erin Shoupp, who heads the coalition, said Wednesday that she's disappointed no decision was reached. But she's glad lawmakers didn't rush into a proposal that would further hurt school districts.

"Now we can go back to our representatives and senators when they're not stressed and time-constrained," she said. "Perhaps having this down time will give us a chance to help the lawmakers craft a better plan."

Irving Superintendent Jack Singley said legislators didn't listen to local school districts and inaction was probably best. He said he doesn't want the current system to remain in place, either.

The intent of the system, nicknamed Robin Hood, was to share the property wealth of the state, he said. But now property-poor districts, like
Irving, share the same financial problems as property-wealthy districts.

"All you do now is maintain and worry about how to not cut jobs and how to pay to open new schools," he said. "In that respect, we're sharing the same trench with them."
 
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A Town's Struggle in the Culture War
By BRUCE WEBER,
New York Times, 6/2/05

MUHLENBERG,
Pa. - In April, at an otherwise mundane meeting of the school board here, Brittany Hunsicker, a 16-year-old student at the local high school, stood up and addressed the assembled board members.

"How would you like if your son and daughter had to read this?" Miss Hunsicker asked.

Then she began to recite from "The Buffalo Tree," a novel set in a juvenile detention center and narrated by a tough, 12-year-old boy incarcerated there. What she read was a scene set in a communal shower, where another adolescent boy is sexually aroused.


"I am in the 11th grade," Miss Hunsicker said. "I had to read this junk."

Less than an hour later, by a unanimous vote of the board (two of its nine members were absent) "The Buffalo Tree" was banned, officially excised from the
Muhlenberg High School curriculum. By 8:30 the next morning all classroom copies of the book had been collected and stored in a vault in the principal's office. Thus began a still unresolved battle here over the fate of "The Buffalo Tree," a young adult novel by Adam Rapp that was published eight years ago by HarperCollins and has been on the 11th-grade reading list at Muhlenberg High since 2000. Pitting teachers, students and others who say the context of the novel's language makes it appropriate for the classroom against those parents and board members who say context be damned, it is a dispute illustrative of the so-called culture war, which, in spite of its national implications, is fought in almost exclusively local skirmishes. The board was set to meet the evening of June 1 to reconsider its decision.

"We're absolutely middle-American," said Joseph Yarworth, the schools' superintendent for the last nine years. "And we're having an argument over our values."

According to the American Library Association, which asks school districts and libraries to report efforts to ban books - that is, have them removed from shelves or reading lists - they are on the rise again: 547 books were challenged last year, up from 458 in 2003. These aren't record numbers. In the 1990's the appearance of the Harry Potter books, with their themes of witchcraft and wizardry, caused a raft of objections from evangelical Christians.

Judith Krug, director of the library association's office for intellectual freedom, attributed the most recent spike to the empowerment of conservatives in general and to the re-election of President Bush in particular. The same thing happened 25 years ago, she said. "In 1980, we were dealing with an average of 300 or so challenges a year, and then Reagan was elected," she said. "And challenges went to 900 or 1,000 a year."

Muhlenberg is a township of modest homes and 10,000 people or so, a bedroom community for the city of
Reading, in the southeastern quadrant of the state. It is conservative politically and almost entirely white, and there are a growing number of evangelical Christians. Miss Hunsicker had just returned from a two-week church mission in Honduras when, encouraged by her mother, she made her public complaint.

But the town is not militantly right wing. It is significant that even the more vociferous opponents of the book did not insist it come off the school library shelves (though thieves apparently took care of that). In fact, on April 14, as soon as Dr. Yarworth discovered that an overzealous underling had had copies of the novel stored in the school vault, he ordered them returned to storage in classrooms so it could still be read by students who sought it out.

"I wanted us to comply with the narrowest possible interpretation of the board's decision," Dr. Yarworth said.

What followed was a period of unusual activism here. Students circulated petitions. Teachers prepared defenses of the book, and their local union prepared a defense of the teacher who had assigned it. Letters on both sides appeared in the local newspaper, The Reading Eagle, which published a number of articles about the dispute. In May a column appeared headlined "The Upside of Censorship," by a regular columnist, John D. Forester Jr., who wrote that after reading only "passages" of "The Buffalo Tree," "I am actually applauding the efforts of parents to have books banished in their school libraries and classrooms." A few days later, an editorial took the opposing view.

On May 4, the school board met for the first time since banning "The Buffalo Tree" and about 200 people attended, 10 times the usual number, Dr. Yarworth said. The president, Mark Nelson, apologized for his vote to ban the book, not because he approved of it in the curriculum - he admitted later he had not read it - but because he felt the decision had been hasty and in violation of the board's policy for book challenges, which says a challenge should first be heard by a committee of teachers and administrators before the issue goes before the board.

Another member, Otto Voit, who had read the novel, responded that the board, as the ultimate authority, was within its rights in removing the book from the curriculum.

Over the next two hours, some of the rhetoric on both sides became inflated. Some declared that dirty words are dirty words, and that with novels like "The Buffalo Tree" being taught it's no wonder American society is going down the tubes. And others, not allowing for the genuine discomfort that some readers of "The Buffalo Tree" feel, invoked the specter of Nazi book-burning.

Several students spoke with more reasonable passion about the value of the novel, and one high school senior, Mary Isamoyer, offered to replace the missing library copies of "The Buffalo Tree" with her own.

"Do not insult our intelligence by keeping this book from us," she said.

Tammy Hahn, a mother of four and perhaps the most outspoken of the book's opponents, responded that the students' view was irrelevant. She was not about to let her daughter take part in a classroom discussion about erections, she said, adding that it amounted to harassment to subject a girl to the smirks and innuendoes of male classmates who would have no sympathy for her discomfort.

"This is not about a child's opinion," she said of the students' defense of the book. "This is about parents."

Afterward, Joan Kochinsky, a board member who had not been at the previous meeting, moved that the ban be rescinded. But wary of making another decision in haste, the board postponed the vote for a week.

On May 11, it met for another tense, well-attended session that lasted until nearly
midnight. This time there was much discussion about the particulars of Miss Hunsicker's unhappiness with the book.

School policy allows for alternate reading assignments when a student or a parent objects to a book on religious or moral grounds, but Miss Hunsicker never did that; her mother, Tammy, said she would have made those specific objections if she had known it was necessary. Miss Hunsicker had simply asked for something else to read because she didn't like "The Buffalo Tree," and her teacher, Luana Goldstan, refused.

"No one is more critical of literature than English teachers," Stacia Richmond, a colleague of Ms. Goldstan's, told the board. "Do you really think we as educators choose literature in terms of its titillation? Do you not realize we are battling the same immorality you are?"

Dr. Yarworth then suggested that confusion could be avoided if a more explicit policy for book challenges were given to parents, including a synopsis of all books on the required reading lists. If that were done, he asked, would the board consider rescinding the ban on "The Buffalo Tree"?

An informal poll was taken, and by a 5-to-3 vote the board indicated it was ready to reverse itself. It was unclear how many members had finished "The Buffalo Tree"; at least two had, at least three had not. But the lengthy debate seemed to prepare them to change their minds.

After the meeting, however, Mrs. Hahn said she felt her arguments had been given short shrift, and she met privately with Mr. Nelson, the board president, to push the idea of a rating system for schoolbooks, similar to what the Motion Picture Association of America does for films. And on May 18, the board rejected the English department's new policy for book challenges and asked that Mrs. Hahn's requests be accommodated: that reading lists made available to parents include a ratings system, plot summaries of all assigned books, and the identification of any potentially objectionable content.

Teachers adamantly opposed these strictures, Michael Anthony, chairman of the English department, said, adding that they would undoubtedly result in more frequent challenges. Dr. Yarworth, who is trying to broker a compromise between the board and faculty, said he had already heard a few grumbles about "Of Mice and Men" and "Catcher in the
Rye."

In any case, Mr. Anthony said, " 'The Buffalo Tree' isn't coming back anytime soon."
 
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From pizza to pita
U.S. schools try to get healthy
Reuters,
6/3/05

OVERLAND PARK, Kansas -- When Annette Evanson sends her son off to elementary school each day, she packs him a lunch stocked with carrot sticks, whole-grain bread and fresh fruit.

She considers it a defensive move. "They serve the kids corn dogs and hot dogs at school," said Evanson, who lives in suburban
Overland Park, Kansas. "It just mimics fast food. What kind of example are we giving to the kids?"

Indeed, concerns about unhealthy eating at schools and evidence of mounting obesity and illness in
America's young people has triggered a new kind of food fight in U.S. school cafeterias.

The front line has been a battle against sugar-laden soda pop in school vending machines, but now a growing army that includes parents, physicians and government officials is working to wipe out such lunchroom staples as cheese pizza, corndogs and french fries. They also want to stop teachers from handing out candy in classrooms.

"The whole school food environment has spiraled out of control," said Margo Wootan, director of nutrition policy for Center for Science in the Public Interest.

Onslaught of opposition

Opposition to change is strong. Many school leaders say kids reject unfamiliar foods and demand mainstays like burgers, fries and hot dogs. They say they need the money vending machine contracts provide. Teachers also are balking, claiming children are more eager to learn if offered candy and pizza parties.

The beverage industry, notably Coca-Cola Co. and Pepsi Bottling Group , are also active in the debate, dispatching lobbyists to defend sales of sodas in schools.

An onslaught of such opposition killed a bill proposed in
Kansas this year that would have required healthy foods and drinks in school vending machines and would have banned teachers from handing out candy as a reward for schoolwork.

"There is resistance to change and it is at many levels," said Amy Lanou, senior nutrition scientist at Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine. "We're a long way off from serving healthy foods to kids in schools." Still, with a firm push from the federal level, including the Centers for Disease Control, the USDA and the U.S. Surgeon General, advocates of change say they are making progress.

Connecticut last week became the first U.S. state to pass a ban on selling sugar-based sodas in schools. Similar bills were introduced in 17 others states this year.

On the food front, changes are largely being made school by school. Some changes are small: In some schools, pizza now is topped with low-fat cheese and french fries are baked, not fried.

Other changes are more significant:
Kentucky is limiting sales of Pizza Hut products in cafeterias; Buffalo, New York, schools are giving prizes to kids who eat lots of fruits and vegetables; and in Sarasota, Florida, whole wheat bread and veggie pita sandwiches accompany several salad options.

Some are even going gourmet. The
Marblehead Community Charter Public School in Massachusetts menu includes vegetable ratatouille, roasted butternut squash and spinach salad.

"We're starting to build some momentum, but there is so much that needs to be done," said Alicia Moag-Stahlberg, executive director of the national advocacy group Action for Healthy Kids.

Weighty statistics

The efforts to turn schools into healthy eating spots has been spurred by reports from the medical community that
America's children are growing markedly fatter and sicker.

According to the Centers for Disease Control, the number of overweight children ages 6 to 11 has more than doubled in the last 20 years while the number of overweight children ages 12-19 has more than tripled. Equally troubling, related health problems, including Type 2 diabetes, are increasingly being seen in children and adolescents.

Because of the range of concerns, the reauthorization last year of the federal Child Nutrition Act requires every school district that receives federal funds to establish a local wellness policy by
June 30, 2006.

And new
U.S. dietary guidelines released in January will force many school districts to revamp menus to incorporate more whole grains and fresh fruits and vegetables.

The USDA is also pushing schools to improve. The agency is currently requesting data on the nutritional quality of meals at 400
U.S. schools to see if improvements have been made since the last such study, which found that only a minority of U.S. schools actually met recommended standards.

"It has become particularly important that we make healthful choices for our children in schools," said Roberto Salazar, administrator for the USDA Food Nutrition Service, which oversees the National School Lunch and School Breakfast. "We want them (schools) to go above and beyond."
 
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Illinois State Board of Education
100 North First Street
Springfield, IL 62777