SPRINGFIELD, Ill. -- Statewide hearings, a rally in Springfield and growing complaints from educators weren't enough
to prod lawmakers into casting a politically risky vote for an income-tax
increase to fund schools this spring.
"I'm disappointed, but not surprised," said Tom Jobst, superintendent
of the OttawaTownshipHighSchool
He understands that politicians might be reluctant, but said that eventually
they must step up and do what's right, or be replaced by those who will.
Illinois needs lawmakers who are more concerned with doing public
good and not just keeping their legislative seats, he said.
Many observers thought this might be the year Illinois would raise income taxes to help fund education, easing
schools' dependence on local property taxes.
Momentum seemed to build and was stronger than it had been in years.
But, said Rick Loy of the Rock Island/Milan School District, as a relatively
new superintendent, he didn't realize the role politics would play.
School-funding changes were relegated to the back burner in a session
overwhelmed with budget deficits, pension debates and the fight over
medical-malpractice reform. The state Senate, which would have heard
the bill first, never called it for a vote.
"In the midst of a budget shortfall of $1.2 billion that required
us to defer pension payments in order to keep operations running, it
all came down to money," said state Rep. Frank Mautino, D-Spring
The other big hurdle? Convincing lawmakers to jump aboard a tax increase
when they knew full well that Gov. Rod Blagojevich would almost certainly
"When the governor comes out up front and says he's going to veto
any kind of a tax increase, it scares a lot of people away," said
state Rep. Jerry Mitchell, R-Sterling. "They don't give it serious
To get past that, supporters would have had to scrounge up a three-fifths
majority, enough to override a veto. That would mean bipartisan support,
which didn't happen in the Senate, said majority leader Sen. Debbie
"Supposedly they kept asking, `What do the Republicans need to
put a vote on it?' They kept asking, they kept asking, they kept putting
all these things on the bill to get Republican votes, and still at the
very end, they could only get one," she said.
Sen. Rick Winkel, R-Champaign, who worked on a compromise measure with
Sen. James Meeks, a Chicago independent, said he's willing to scale
back further to make the proposal more palatable to Republicans.
Sen. Meeks said he thinks there's been enough compromise. He's said
he's going to spend the summer visiting about a dozen Republican Senate
districts, trying to persuade people to change their minds and consider
the bill this fall.
The new state budget does includes $300 million in new money for education,
including a $200 increase in the foundation level, or amount the state
spends per pupil. Over the last eight years, Illinois has increased school funding by about 20 percent, Rep.
Chicago school officials plan to take a first step toward decentralizing
the massive system next month when they give 85 of the best-run schools
sweeping autonomy in teaching students, training educators and spending
The decision to give 15 percent of the district's schools more freedom
is part of a long-term vision of untangling an entrenched bureaucracy
long viewed as one of the most formidable barriers to school reform
in the nation's third-largest district.
"This is the culmination of a lot of work ... that aims to turn
this place into a support center, rather than the command-and-control
center," said David Vitale, the district's chief administrative
officer. "Ideally, we'd like to have all 600 schools doing this."
The move--expected to be announced Monday--also accomplishes two short-term
goals: It rewards schools that have track records of student achievement
and sound management and allows the district to focus its resources
on schools in crisis, at a time when the system is facing record deficits.
Vitale said principals at the schools that earn autonomy will get to
decide how much or how little they want from central administration,
whether it is meetings, budget approval, reading programs or staff training.
These schools still will be bound by union contracts, court mandates
and state regulations governing everything from special education to
standardized testing. But the idea is to replicate the flexibility that
helps charter schools thrive.
"This is something I would have loved to be part of when I was
a principal," said chief education officer Barbara Eason-Watkins,
who recalled having a successful after-school partnership program scrapped
in the late 1980s because a downtown official decided she couldn't mix
high school and grade school money. "Clearly, when you have people
who are innovative, you don't want to put bureaucratic constraints on
That sentiment is nothing new in the history of Chicago schools.
One school-reform researcher said the new streamlining effort appears
to be an attempt to reverse some of the "re-centralizing"
that kicked in after City Hall took control of schools in 1995.
A 1988 reform movement, which gave all schools an unprecedented amount
of autonomy and created local elected councils that had the power to
set budgets and hire principals, was the most recent campaign to decentralize.
But it backfired because there was little accountability for schools
that abused this power and did little to improve education for their
students, said John Easton, executive director of the Consortium on
Chicago School Reform.
Easton hopes for better results this time.
"I think this is great ... and it smacks of something different,"
he said. "It appears they've come to feel they've overcentralized,
that they might have swung too far and now are trying to get the right
balance. Yet most things like this turn out to be far more complicated
than they appear."
The newly created "autonomy list" is the flip side of landing
on the district's "probation list," where principals at 212
underperforming schools have seen many of their powers taken away, in
hopes that tighter supervision by regional administrative offices will
The number of schools on probation increased dramatically this year,
from 82 to 212, because the district raised the standards to match benchmarks
set under the federal No Child Left Behind law. For the most part, these
schools are told how to spend discretionary money, what curriculum to
use and how to structure the school day.
Officials hope the creation of a new tier of autonomous schools gives
schools in the middle some extra incentive to improve, in addition to
the desire to avoid probation.
The district used a variety of criteria in determining which schools
deserved this new freedom. The most important factor was the academic
performance of students.
Nearly all of the schools had more than 40 percent of students passing
reading and math tests. A few slid in under that bar because the school
was making marked progress with a challenging population of children.
One such school was SpryCommunitySchool, where test scores are rising and where the principal
has pushed hard for the freedom he needs to run an innovative K-12 school
in South Lawndale.
"This will be advantageous for us because we have a new kind of
school," Spry Principal Carlos Azcoitia said. "We spend a
lot of time on mandated meetings and writing reports that don't improve
Other criteria include hiring highly qualified teachers, keeping the
building clean, including special education students in regular classes,
receiving sound financial audits and ensuring that more than 95 percent
of students attend school every day.
Officials also considered whether a majority of residents attended the
school, in the case of neighborhood elementary schools.
Only 11 of the 85 schools selected for autonomy are high schools, reflecting
the reality that high schools have proven far more difficult to turn
around than grade schools.
Early reactions from the chosen principals ranged from ecstatic to indifferent.
Some worried that this gift of freedom seemed almost too good to be
true--and could be taken away if the political winds shift.
Most agreed it will help draw new talent into the principal profession.
"I can't tell you what a shock it was to learn how to navigate
the bureaucracy here," said Don Fraynd, who became principal of
Jones College Prep two years ago after running a Jesuit school in Nebraska. "This is a wise move because principals from the
outside just won't put up with the way this system is currently configured."
Fraynd said he hopes to make a total break from the bureaucracy. No
more monthly meetings. No more district-directed teacher-training programs.
No more outside mentors. No more regular visits from an area supervisor.
No more budget oversight that requires Fraynd to get five separate approvals
every time he wants to transfer money from one account to another.
"I am so excited," he said. "It will free up time and
Michael Keno, principal of Harte Elementary in Hyde Park, said it was a nice pat on the back, but he doesn't expect it to change
anything about the way he runs the school. He still wants the supervision,
the meetings, the budget oversight and the programs the district has
"I don't think I'll be that little independent school," said
Keno, who has worked for the district for 30 years. "I know the
bureaucracy and what the bureaucracy wants me to do. They don't hinder
For many other veteran principals, this list gives the district's official
stamp of approval to what is sometimes called "creative insubordination"--the
paths the district's best school leaders found around onerous dictates
while creating successful programs.
"I don't know how liberating it's going to be. In many cases, it's
going to make it OK to do what we've been doing unofficially for a long
time," said James Cosme, longtime principal of Otis Elementary
in the WestTown neighborhood.
At Otis, test scores are good, not great, but the school has a strong
reputation and excellent community support. Cosme has supported a lot
of curricular innovations: dance instruction that helps kids make connections
to writing and math lessons and a mime unit that brought actors from
He has also figured out a way to customize some of the district-pushed
programs to fit the school's needs.
"This sounds promising because they are letting us decide how much
[central office involvement] we want," he said. "I'll probably
keep attending the monthly meetings, although sometimes it's like watching
study has found that students lose nearly two hours of sleep each weeknight
and show up groggy when classes start around 8 a.m.
The study in the journal Pediatrics adds to a mountain of research showing
that teenage body clocks are out of sync with high schools' early start
Sixty students who kept sleep diaries reported that during the summer,
they slept an average of 8.7 hours on weeknights. But once school began,
their sleep decreased to seven hours per night.
The study provides further evidence of the "epidemic of sleep deprivation
among adolescents," researchers wrote.
Students in the study all took an identical advanced placement biology
class, beginning either at , or Performance tests showed that students in the earliest
class were more tired and less alert and had to work harder.
Early in the morning, students "tend to be passive and sleepy.
They're not as talkative and don't ask as many questions," said
Martha Hansen, who taught the biology classes and is lead author of
the study. Hansen's four co-authors are NorthwesternUniversity researchers.
EvanstonTownship senior Kalin Meyer, who graduated Sunday, said he typically
stayed up until or later studying. Meyer, who was not involved in the study, said he
needed two alarm clocks to wake up at so he wouldn't be late for his first-period Spanish class.
"I don't get focused and going until
or ," he said. "It's hard to speak English first
thing in the morning, let alone Spanish."
Sleep is triggered by production of the hormone melatonin. During adolescence,
production is delayed, so teens have trouble getting to sleep. Consequently,
their bodies want to stay up late and sleep late.
"It looks like we're pumping them out of their cycle when we start
them at ," Hansen said.
Teens at least should be allowed to sleep late on weekends, said Northwestern
researcher Margarita Dubocovich. "They're not being lazy or antisocial."
Many high schools begin around
or earlier. Researchers suggested schools consider later start times.
Seven Minneapolis high schools did that in 1997, when they pushed back
start times from to Attendance improved, and there was a slight boost in
grades. On average, students slept one hour more each weeknight, dispelling
fears they would just stay up later, according to a 2001 University of Minnesota study.
Community meeting planned
However, later start times would mean later dismissal times, and this
could complicate scheduling of sports and other after-school activities.
Next fall, EvanstonTownship plans to hold a community meeting to describe the study
and discuss the school schedule, a spokeswoman said. Researchers also
suggested that standardized tests begin later than 8 a.m.
The study also found that exposing students to bright light in the morning
did not help them adjust their body clocks or boost early morning performance.
Representatives from the South Inter-Athletic Conference Association
will give mediation a chance Tuesday after talks to determine the future
of the sprawling south suburban organization stalled.
The meeting comes on the heels of a state board petition filed by Thornton
Township High Schools District 205 Supt. J. Kamala Buckner and Thornton
Fractional District 215 Supt. Robert Wilhite alleging the defection
of several high schools from the 32-school conference creates a racial
imbalance for those remaining.
Buckner said the issue is that all students, regardless of color, should
have the opportunity to compete against each other and the long-term
impact of the realignment is that all students will suffer.
"In this geopolitical and international world, students need to
have the opportunity to compete at all levels," she said.
In February, nine schools--nearly all predominantly white--pulled out
of the conference to form the Southwest Suburban Conference.
Representatives of the remaining schools met in May to discuss ways
to align the conference more evenly by population, location and sports
offered per school. Last month, another 11 schools left to form the
North Central Conference.
Burt Odelson, an attorney for several North Central Conference schools,
said larger schools had been dominating smaller schools and some kids
and parents were losing interest because they were not playing their
rivals. "Natural rivalries are being diminished," he said.
"It's having an impact on the number of people coming out to see
the games and the kids."
If you're a student of a certain age, chances are you have a high school
graduation coming up this weekend or next. That means caps and gowns
and valedictory addresses . . .
Well, it used to. Caps and gowns are still in. Valedictorians, though,
may be on the way out.
A number of high schools across the country are killing the tradition
of naming a valedictorian. Locally, Highland Park and DeerfieldHigh
will do away with class rankings altogether next year. Stevenson and
may do so as well.
The New Yorker magazine this week detailed a number of cases where rancor
has prompted schools to decide the honor isn't worth the trouble. Competition
has reached such a state in some top schools as to invite craziness.
A Michigan student who narrowly missed having the highest grade-point
average sued his school district. A New Jersey senior sued her local board of education when she was
named co-valedictorian instead of sole valedictorian; she sought $200,000
in compensatory damages and more than $2 million in punitive damages.
Because of a last-minute change in how GPAs were calculated, a Virginia
high school last year rescinded one of three valedictorian honors it
had announced, including one that would have gone to an African-American
student. An outraged NAACP called it a lynching and suggested the district
should pay for the student's first semester at college.
Such disputes can fracture schools and communities. The New Jersey girl was so reviled in her town that she didn't show
up at her commencement ceremony.
So, does it help or harm students to rank in order the best? At the
highest-performing schools, it may help to do away with the rankings.
When it's time to apply for college, a very good student in a highly
competitive class may suffer from being ranked outside the top 10 percent--a
magic number for colleges in the closely watched U.S. News & World
Report rankings. Differences of hundredths of a point in a GPA are meaningless
but can escalate into high school holy wars.
Take away the ranking, and a high GPA at a high school known for its
rigorous academics may stand out more. College gatekeepers worth their
salt already have a good idea that a 4.0 GPA at WalterPaytonHigh
in Chicago means something more than a 4.0 GPA at a less challenging
school. They know a schedule loaded with AP courses is more challenging
than one replete with badminton and typing. Admissions officers have
other measures, such as ACT and SAT scores, to help place candidates
on a national academic yardstick.
Some schools try compromises. Some place an asterisk in the commencement
program next to those students who graduate in the top tier of their
class. Some have the faculty vote to decide which student deserves the
honor of speaking at graduation. Other schools confer the title of valedictorian
on anyone who earns a 4.0 or higher grade-point average. One California high school this year boasted 32 valedictorians, according
to The New Yorker. Another had 23.
Eliminating the rankings may not be the best course at all schools.
For students at schools that don't have a national or regional reputation,
the additional recognition of valedictorian or top 10 percent may help
in the admissions process.
But the idea is worth considering. After all, as many valedictorians
learn, their ilk can fill a stadium at competitive colleges. These high-achievers
may know an awful lot by the time they triumphantly toss tasseled caps
with their 4.6241 GPAs. But in a few months, when they step on a college
campus, they start all over at 0.0000.
Mental health tests
for kids spark debate
Opponents fear labeling of students
By Bonnie Miller Rubin, Tribune staff reporter. Tribune staff reporter
Meg McSherry Breslin contributed to this report, Chicago Tribune, 6/5/05
Suzanne Cahalan knew there was a problem when her 4-year-old daughter
started stealing from friends and relatives. But it took eight years
before the Wheaton mother of four finally found out that the girl suffered
from bipolar disorder.
Such delays in diagnosis make a powerful case that youngsters should
be monitored closely for mental health problems, according to children's
advocates who are drafting a plan to increase awareness in Illinois schools about depression, anxiety and other disorders,
as well as the need to screen children when warning signs occur.
"Our daughter lost some crucial growing-up time," said Cahalan,
an attorney. "If we had known earlier, we could have sought appropriate
treatment to alleviate some of her symptoms. We could have saved not
only her, but our entire family from some very terrifying days."
Critics say that such initiatives are what is truly terrifying. Conservative
and anti-government Web sites have been buzzing for months about how
such plans will lead to children being forcibly tested, unfairly labeled--and
even drugged. Most of all, opponents say that watching out for mental
disorders is the responsibility of parents, not institutions.
"The purpose of school is to educate," said Fran Eaton, a
lobbyist who represents the Illinois Family Institute, Concerned Women
of America and other conservative groups in Springfield. "At a time when the U.S. is lagging behind other nations in math and science,
is this what we should be doing? Do we really want the state involved
in determining emotional and social development?"
The idea of being more proactive gained momentum after President Bush's
New Freedom Commission on Mental Health found in 2003 that only 20 percent
of troubled children receive treatment, and it called for schools to
play a bigger role. Congress allocated $20 million for states to develop
a range of programs, emphasizing prevention, early identification and
"This is not a hunt to find mental illness. It's about trying to
support children so they can be healthy," said Barbara Shaw, chairwoman
of the Illinois Children's Mental Health Partnership, the task force
developing the plan to improve access to treatment for youth from preschool
through adolescence. A new draft of the plan is due on the governor's
desk by month's end.
"Children have been kicked out of day care centers, failed in schools
and generally suffered needlessly," Shaw said. "Through better
screening, parents will have more information to help them help their
Assessment tools are already used by primary care physicians, in early
childhood programs and a variety of school settings. Questionnaires
that evaluate mood and behavior--such as the TeenScreen Program developed
at ColumbiaUniversity--are used to identify those at high risk for depression
and other mood disorders.
A sample question asks: "In the past month, how much of a problem
have you had with feeling unhappy or sad?" Responses range from
"1, no problem" to "5, very bad problem."
In the primary grades, one popular questionnaire is Ages and Stages,
which is filled out by parents. In all cases, trained personnel, such
as school psychologists, do the scoring. If concerns are identified,
parents are encouraged to get further information. Any follow-up is
at the discretion of the parent, officials said, just as it is when
a child is identified as needing eyeglasses.
"Here we have something that can really help kids," said Dr.
Louis Kraus, head of child and adolescent psychiatry at RushUniversityMedicalCenter. "If schools are just to educate, then why do we
require a physical exam or that vaccines are up-to-date? It makes sense
to use schools . . . because that's where the kids are."
The Chicago Public Schools system has hired a consultant from the University of North Carolina to help more preschool teachers figure out when a child's
problems are serious enough to require help such as special education
services. School leaders hope to get budget approval for mental-health
screeners and teacher training for about 25 schools beginning in the
As with cancer or diabetes, mental illness is most responsive to therapy
when caught early, said Dr. Carl Bell, a child psychiatrist and president
of the Chicago Community Mental Health Council. When left untreated,
mental illness places children at higher risk for dropping out of school,
substance abuse, criminal activity and suicide.
School officials already patrol for everything from tuberculosis to
head lice, and mental illness should be no different, he said. "All
they're doing is jacking it up a notch," said Bell, calling this one of the most urgent public health issues
of the day.
"We're at the point where it's going to become unethical not to
do these things--just as, in 2005, it is not ethical to deny a child
a polio or a smallpox shot."
However, anti-government and anti-psychiatry groups--nationally as well
as in Illinois--believe the diagnosis of mental illness is subjective,
at best. And they contend that such ambitious plans come with a built-in
"The stakeholders in this campaign have a financial interest in
inflating the roster of children and adults who get labeled mentally
ill," said Vera Hassner Sharav, president of the Alliance for Human Research Protection, a patient advocacy group.
More screened kids means more money for psychiatrists and the pharmaceutical
industry, she said.
Kraus scoffed at that notion. "Most of us are so overwhelmed [by
demand] that the concept that we're pushing for this to line our pockets
is a joke."
A conservative newsletter, the Illinois Leader, helped fuel the controversy
by reporting that testing would be mandatory and done without parental
consent. Officials say this is not true.
Nevertheless, when the Illinois partnership--made up of representatives
from more than 30 health, education and child advocacy groups--delivers
a new draft, it will spell out more explicitly that any screening would
be voluntary and by parental permission.
The furor started to bubble up last fall, when the partnership held
public forums at five locations around the state, including Chicago. One common fear is that all students would be screened,
not just those exhibiting troubling behavior.
Eaton, the lobbyist, said private citizens shared their experiences
with her, recalling how they were different from other students and
did not fit the mold. In today's climate, "they were confident
that they would be stigmatized as mentally ill. It was very painful
to listen to."
"Testing for kids in foster care or corrections--we have no objections
with that," she said. "It's the idea that every child is seen
as having a potential need for mental health care is where we have a
Tweaking the language of the proposed plan doesn't placate State Sen.
Chris Lauzen (R-Aurora), who calls it an overreach of government.
"When I listened to constituents on this issue, I heard real fear
in their voices . . . that their kids would be labeled; that other classmates
might not want to play with them," Lauzen said.
Proponents say one way to erase the stigma is to bring mental health
into the mainstream. They also argue that it is unpredictable behavior,
not the results of an assessment, that separates children from their
The eight-year lag experienced by Cahalan's daughter from onset of symptoms
to diagnosis and treatment is fairly typical, experts say. At age 12,
the girl finally received the medications that tamed her mood swings.
She will study nursing at a local college this fall.
Still, Cahalan laments the squandered years. "If my kid had asthma
or leukemia, I'd want her labeled at an early age," she said. "I
feel like she lost her childhood . . . and we can't ever get that back." TOP OF PAGE
He found a way to combine all three when he started to study Illinois high school mascots.
He's also a curious fellow who has a hard time stopping once he gets
"I'm anal-retentive," he said, laughing.
So what started as an article turned into a book that apparently will
wind up being a series of volumes about mascots, or nicknames, as we
often call them.
Willman recently finished "Why Mascots Have Tales," which
from Appleknockers (Cobden) to Zippers (Monmouth) is an entertaining,
educational and at times surprising celebration of Illinois' diverse collection of mascots. In 254 pages, he has
sliced and diced the 783 mascots about every way imaginable.
"People have a tremendous amount of school pride, mascots they
love and fight for but often no idea how they got them," he said.
"My hope is this book is going to create a sense of knowledge and
pride in Illinois high school history."
Mascots, especially the bizarre ones, fascinate many of us. The heart
of Willman's book is his 76 "all-state" and 68 "honorable
mention" mascots, selected mainly according to how rare and clever
But as wacky as the Cornjerkers (Hoopeston Area) or Bunnies (Fisher)
are, the tales behind the mascots are sometimes crazier than the mascots
The Sequoits of Antioch, for example, are not named after a Native American
tribe but rather after a local stream. Roxana would be the Rams, not
the Shells, had not a nearby Shell Oil refinery donated money to the
school decades ago.
And a long-ago incident in a Greek literature class led to the Lake
Forest Academy Caxys. Caxy, by the way, is the ancient Greek word for
the croaking sound a frog makes.
Willman, 58, taught 7th-grade social studies in Naperville for 33 years before retiring in 2002. He also was the
public-address announcer at Naperville North football and basketball
games for 24 years.
After retiring, he began to write an article about mascots for a geographic
bulletin and discovered he had enough research to start a book. He got
a lucky break two years ago when he spoke about his project to a sports
Rick Yelton, an official with a background in publishing, was impressed
and helped form Mascot Publishing to get the book into print. It can
be ordered at www.mascotpublishing.com or www.ihsa.org, the Illinois
High School Association's Web site.
"Our role is to try to build a legacy of school spirit," Yelton
Willman spent two years on the book, half of it cataloguing and categorizing
every high school mascot in the country. That lets him say, for example,
that Illinois schools Freeport and New Berlin not only have the only two Pretzels mascots in the country
but also are two of only 15 high schools in the U.S. with food as a mascot.
A reader also learns that not only is DeKalb the only school in the
country that uses Barbs but also one of just two with a crow as a logo.
Biggsville Union, meanwhile, is one of only two high schools in the
U.S. with the mascot Yankees, though 184 mascots are some
form of a Rebel.
The most popular mascot--nationally and in Illinois--is Eagles, which is used 1,002 times in the U.S. and 39 times in the Land of Lincoln.
Willman tried to track down the why behind every Illinois mascot, even visiting schools in person if that's what
it took. His explanations include information about history, geography,
economics and folklore, including how some high schools and towns got
Thanks to his efforts, I finally know where the "Fractional"
in Thornton Fractional North and Thornton Fractional South comes from.
The book also has chapters on school colors and enrollments as well
as on feminine nicknames. Willman reports that only one school, Chicago's BronzevilleMilitaryAcademy, uses yellow as a school color, though gold is quite
Speaking of gold, he believes that MarquetteUniversity's recent short-lived selection of Gold as a mascot was
"I think schools that pick colors as mascots have kind of a problem
with identity," he said. "When you name yourselves Crimson,
what are you? Or the Big Red . . . Big Red what?"
He also is no fan of the more extreme Indian mascots such as Redskins,
still around in six Illinois high schools, or Savages, which still exist
at 11 schools, none--thank goodness--in Illinois.
Willman hates to lose a good nickname. Monmouth, for example, the only
Zippers in the U.S., is consolidating with Roseville, the Panthers, and the new school will use the Titans.
And Biggsville Union and Stronghurst Southern, the Rebels, will consolidate
and become the Heat, though only the second Heat among U.S. high schools.
Willman, who recently moved to Florida, is working on a "Why Mascots Have Tales"
for Ohio, with plans to do at least several more.
"I know this kind of book won't appeal to everybody," he said,
"but I know years from now people will go to this and say, `Whoever
this guy is, I'm glad he wrote this down.'"
Graduation hopes realized
A new law allows a special education student to graduate with her peers
even though she will continue her schooling
Grace Aduroja, Chicago Tribune
At the graduation ceremony at YorkCommunityHigh
in Elmhurst, Beth Terrill fidgeted nervously, adjusting her class
ring and clasping her sweaty palms.
But when her name, Elizabeth Alice Terrill, was called Sunday, the special-education
student confidently strutted across the stage, hugged the principal,
grabbed her diploma and flashed a grin at friends she'd known since
"I feel like I'm part of the class," she said, beaming shortly
after the ceremony.
Terrill's parents had feared their daughter, born with cognitive disabilities
that impair her speech and reading ability, would never realize her
dream of graduating with her peers.
That fear subsided in January when Gov. Rod Blagojevich signed Brittany's Law, giving Terrill and thousands of special education
students the chance to participate in commencement ceremonies without
fear of losing state-guaranteed training services that the disabled
are entitled to until age 21.
The law was drafted after a Tribune report last spring about Brittany
Booth's determination to graduate, despite administrators repeatedly
denying her request.
Officials at Booth's La
high school initially told her that accepting a diploma would signify
the end of schooling, and therefore she would forfeit access to the
district-funded transitional services.
Although the Illinois State Board of Education advised schools to give
students certificates of completion in graduation ceremonies instead
of diplomas, the decision was left up to the districts. Booth, who has
Down syndrome, was told she would be able to graduate at 21 when she
finished her training.
Alleging that school officials failed to address persistent racial remarks
against her two daughters, an African-American woman has sued HarvardSchool
50 for $25 million.
Starry Cousins-Brandon filed the suit in McHenry County Circuit Court
last week, citing several incidents, including one last fall in which
a white boy allegedly walked up to her daughter, Shari Perry, 12, at
Harvard Junior High School and threw flour in her face.
Shari came home in tears, her hair wet after a teacher tried to clean
it and her eyes caked with white dust, said Cousins-Brandon, who moved
to Harvard two years ago from Marengo.
The boy was suspended, and Supt. Randy Gross said school officials couldn't
prove the act was racially motivated. Cousins-Brandon said she sued
to get the district to stop pupils from making racist remarks toward
and her sister, Evanya Perry, 14.
She said Evanya, who attends HarvardHigh
has attempted suicide twice this year, in part because of name-calling.
Although district officials confirmed that the flour incident occurred
in October, they said Cousins-Brandon never told them her daughters
were being racially harassed.
In her one-page typed complaint, which begins "Dear your Honor,"
Cousins-Brandon wrote: "My children should be able to go to school
and not be harrassed (sic) to the point of wanting to die."
"I would have sued for $1, but I didn't think that would get anybody's
attention," said Cousins-Brandon, 35, who said she filed the suit
on her own because she couldn't afford an attorney and didn't know how
to find free representation. "It's not about the money. It's about
someone saying enough is enough."
According to the 2000 census, the majority of McHenryCounty's 286,091 residents were white, 7.5 percent were Hispanic,
1.5 percent were Asian and 0.6 percent were black.
Throughout the county, there are minority schoolchildren who say they
are isolated or ostracized because of their race or culture, according
to members of the McHenry County Human Relations Council.
"We hear about incidents in the schools and try to talk to people,
but then we hear, `We don't have any problem in our schools,'"
said Mario Perez, chairman of the council, which is looking into the
Cousins-Brandon said a handful of students have made remarks to her
daughters. "They called them the `n-word,' monkey, cockroaches,"
At first, she said, she told her daughters to ignore the comments. But
On May 16, Shari fought with a student who allegedly called her a derogatory
name. Harvard police arrested Shari, but she has not been petitioned
to juvenile court on charges of battery and resisting arrest, said her
mother and school officials.
She was suspended from school for 10 days, school officials said. Cousins-Brandon
filed her lawsuit on May 26.
Gross said the suit surprised him because Cousins-Brandon did not talk
about the racist remarks until Shari was suspended for the May 16 fight.
"I would say I've had three calls from her," Gross said. "The
[issue of racism] only came up at the very end when the fight had taken
place and her daughter was suspended."
Cousins-Brandon said Evanya is dealing with other "teenage problems"
in addition to harassment. She was seeing a school guidance counselor
about the problems, and the racist remarks stopped temporarily, Cousins-Brandon
When school officials counseled Evanya at the hospital after a suicide
attempt, she never mentioned that remarks were bothering her, said Steve
Schultz, dean of students for the high school.
"Our goal is to try and get people to get along to get a good education,"
Schultz said. "If that doesn't work with the guidance counselor,
they get me involved. And that never happened in this case."
Cousins-Brandon said she would drop the suit if the district acknowledged
that there was a problem and set up a race awareness program.
It's pretty sad to think that our children could go through grade school
and graduate from high school and still never see the education funding
reform so highly touted when they were first graders.
It's safe to say many Illinois legislators flunked their tests this year. And avoided
That's not to say some have not tried.
We naively thought this might be the year. There was a concept on the
table in the House to increase the income tax "for education"
and offset some of that increase by giving counties rebates to lower
real estate tax rates.
Unfortunately, it was loaded with too many goodies for other than basic
K-12 education. Some legislators also thought it was providing too much
additional money for education that would provide no incentives for
school boards to control spending.
An attempt in the Senate to use the same tax-swap premise, but ensure
that the leftover taxes went only to education couldn't make it past
the legislators who wanted to make sure money was included for social
structuring in the name of education -- plus some money for the state's
day-to-day operating expenses.
Some legislators say money isn't the problem there is more than $330
million in new education revenue in the fiscal 2006 budget. Total education
funding for K-12 has increased annually for years.
The arguments skirt the real issues: Should school funding rely so heavily
on real estate taxes, and are educational funds distributed equitably?
But what is right and fair can't compete with politics.
We have a governor whose re-election campaign will be based on the fact
that he promised not to increase sales or income taxes and he hasn't.
He's just increased fees and raided dedicated funds that don't directly
affect every Illinois taxpayer and are hidden from public view.
We have a Legislature with representatives who run for re-election every
two years and don't want to vote on a tax increase less than a year
away from primary elections.
And we have a two-party system where some lawmakers are more interested
in winning political games and making sure they get their share of taxes
for pet projects back home than worrying about education funding reform.
Politicians who walked away from education funding reform again this
session should hang their heads in shame -- they have failed their constituents
by not having the political courage to address permanent solutions to
education funding reform.
TamaroaGrade School to Combine Second
and Third Grade Craig Shrum, Du Quoin Evening
will combine second and third grade classes next year to address financial
issues that have sent one of Southern
school districts into deficit spending.
students saw firsthand the controversy and frustrations over school
funding issues when they attended a rally May 19 in Springfield to call attention to the issue.
The rally centered around House Bill 755, a proposal by Illinois Senator
James Meeks (I-Chicago) that would purportedly 'swap' schools tax funding
base by raising individual income tax from 3 percent to 5 percent and
include property tax relief. Meeks and other supporters of the bill
say it would more equitably fund education. Currently, schools receive
their funding from taxation on property within their district.
However, the day after the rally, Meeks withdrew his bill because of
a lack of legislative support, planning to reintroduce the measure in
the fall session. A Chicago Tribune study of the legislation said the
bill it would actually raise taxes on property owners by an average
of 20 percent.
For the Tamaroa students, though, attending the Springfield rally was an opportunity to see the strong views on
both sides of the issue as they listened to speakers for and against
the funding swap. The students also met local legislators, visiting
with Sen. Dave Luechtefeld and Rep. Mike Bost in their offices.
"It concerned the students' future, for how schools are going to
be funded," commented Tamaroa teacher Cindy Opp, one of the several
district employees and parents who accompanied the group to Springfield. "They're going to school in a building that's
100 years old. Then they're going on to PinckneyvilleHigh
which in the past has had issues surrounding construction as well.
"And it's not just the construction," Opp said. "It's
the idea of programs to be offered, technologies and things to be offered
to the students."
Although Tamaroa District 5 has done well financially in recent years,
Superintendent Robert Trover said the district has reached the point
of deficit spending and is now planning to combine the second and third
grade classes during the 2005-06 school year. "It's finances, student
numbers and all that," he said.
The school intends to make the best of a less-than-perfect situation,
using a teacher's aide to help provide individualized instruction and
maintaining separate math and reading programs for the two grade levels.
Trover said that the Springfield rally showed support for school funding reform.
"We need to get an adequate amount of money for all the students
in the state," Trover said.
The newly passed state budget, which adds about $313 million to education
spending, would increase the foundation level of funding for each student
to $5,164. However, education experts maintain that figure should be
at least $6,400.
"We know that upstate they spend a whole lot more money,"
Trover commented. "If they live in a rich district, they can have
more things. but at least downstate, we need to be able to have an adequate
There are several other education issues involved in the current state
budget. The budget, worked out by Gov. Rod Blagojevich and Democratic
leaders in the legislature, is worth at least $54.4 million. Republican
lawmakers say that a reduction in support for teachers' pensions--one
of the budget's key provisions--actually amounts to a $40 million cut
in education funding for the upcoming fiscal year.
At the same time, lawmakers have approved a Blagojevich plan to increase
graduation requirements for high school students. the plan calls for
students to complete two years of science, three years of math, four
years of English, and two writing courses prior to graduation. However,
critics call the measure an unfunded mandate, with inadequate dollars
to allow schools to hire or retain personnel to meet the requirements.
is reducing its math and English instruction by one teacher in each
field next year. The board decided earlier this year not to replace
retiring instructors in order to balance an approximately $300,000 budget
deficit. School officials have said in the past, though, that once the
state decided to increase graduation requirements, it may be necessary
to reverse those cuts--reversing any financial savings the district
may have gained by eliminating the positions.
already on a State Board of Education financial monitoring list, cut
13 teaching positions in March. The district has been able to hire back
seven of those teachers, but still faces a tight financial picture.
And while schools throughout the state face similar funding challenges,
there is a sense that districts in rural areas downstate--including
PerryCounty--don't quite get their fair share.
"You'd just like to see a more equitable system so that our 110
kids at Tamaroa are just as important as a suburban Chicago school," Opp said.
Our opinion: Indiana and Illinois need to work harder to keep kids in school -- not necessarily
the traditional public school -- so they can graduate with the skill
This month, high school graduates bask in their accomplishment, proud
to have endured 13 years of schooling.
In Indiana, they not only had to attend classes and do their schoolwork
all those years but also pass the Graduation Qualifying Exam to prove
they earned a ninth grade education. The exam is administered at the
start of their sophomore year.
They graduate knowing that a college diploma has become the equivalent
of their parents' high school diploma in terms of an entry into the
Yet even that high school hurdle, as devalued as it seems to many adults,
is too high for too nearly a quarter of youngsters.
Of the students who enter eighth grade in Indiana and Illinois, about 23 percent are unlikely to receive a high school
The Alliance for Excellent Education, based in Washington, D.C., said students who read and write poorly significantly
are far less likely to stay in school as their counterparts.
"Students who struggle with reading and writing quickly fall behind
in their studies and become frustrated," Bob Wise, president of
the alliance, said in a statement. "The next step, too often, is
for them to drop out, totally unprepared for further education or a
Young people who drop out of school find it difficult to do such simple
yet essential things as balance a checkbook or read directions for assembling
toys, making home repairs or taking medication as prescribed.
Their career options also are shrinking fast, vastly limiting their
These are the people who are more likely to require public assistance
of one kind or another. These are the people who should get help earlier
in their schooling to help boost their reading skills so they can keep
up with their classmates.
It should start even before they enter preschool. Their parents should
read a newspaper and books for enjoyment themselves. That send the subliminal
message that reading is fun, not drudgery. A bedtime story or two, read
from a book, gives children something to look forward to. Keep up that
habit as long as possible.
Schools, for their part, should offer tutoring as necessary to boost
those essential skills throughout the child's school career. As a child
falls further behind, getting promoted to the next grade level whether
he's ready or not, he becomes more likely to drop out of high school.
Janet Zeck, principal of GrimmerMiddle
in Schererville, said her school tries to teach students study habits
and life schools. That's essential.
As education standards increase, a stronger emphasis on literacy needs
to be made in order to help students keep up with their work in all
If the traditional public school isn't working for that child, find
an alternative that works.
Indiana and Illinois need to work harder to keep kids in school so they can
graduate with the skills necessary for a satisfying, productive adult
Your opinion, please
What should educators, parents and others do to reduce the high school
State Treasurer Judy Baar Topinka said Wednesday that if she decides
to seek the Republican nomination for governor, she will propose an
overhaul for Illinois' system of funding public schools with property taxes.
Topinka also indicated that because of the state's shaky fiscal condition,
she would have rather seen the state's Democratic-controlled government
balance the budget through cuts instead of boosting spending, including
more than $300 million in new money for grade- and high-school education.
Topinka, the lone Republican statewide officeholder, made her comments
before the Tribune's editorial board. She sought to explain her belief
that the decision by the Democratic-run General Assembly and Democratic
Gov. Rod Blagojevich to fill a budget hole by deferring $2.2 billion
in payments to state pension systems was an unconstitutional increase
in state debt.
Last month, Topinka asked Atty. Gen. Lisa Madigan for a legal opinion
on the pension deferral. Madigan's office is reviewing the request.
Aides to Blagojevich have defended the plan, saying it contains pension
reforms that will provide significant long-term savings to taxpayers.
Topinka, a three-term state treasurer, said the idea of raising income
taxes and reducing property taxes to fund public schools has not been
fully discussed. The long-debated, tax-swap concept, she said, has been
rejected by lawmakers at least three times, the latest last month, when
such a proposal was never called for a vote.
"I think we have to look at [education funding] again, and dig
up all those old musty reviews on this, and come up with something that
is better. And if I am running for governor, we will have something,"
Topinka, who said she will make a decision this summer on whether to
run for governor, said she does not currently have a plan for education
"We have this discussion every year on education in the legislature.
It's been going on for at least 15 years that I've been in the legislature,
and we still have not come up with a solution to it other than to keep
going back to property taxes and keep having basically inequitable funding,"
On the pension-deferment issue, Topinka contended the plan constituted
a Democratic-backed borrowing scheme that allowed additional state spending
with a multibillion-dollar debt to be paid in 40 years. Asked if it
was the wrong time to increase education funding, Topinka said, "I
think we need to ... just balance our budget first and get this house
Topinka did praise the Democratic governor's efforts to reduce the state
payroll and to combine state agencies to save money. But, she said,
as a state, "we're going to have to have more of that."
"You certainly have to stop spending. You have to say `no' and
stop the spending. Even if there's wonderful projects and so on, you
just have to hold back on the spending," Topinka said.
Sitting in a top-floor history classroom at ClementeHigh
on the West Side, a dozen seniors came with questions for the visitor.
"I know it's hard to answer, but where did they get the hate?"
asked Sergio Morales, 17.
"After all this pain," wondered Evelyn Bonilla, 18, "is
there any hope of unity in your country?"
For the last four years, the group has been following a study plan set
out by an international program called Facing History and Ourselves
to "explore choices and recognize the decisions in history, large
and small, that led to group hatred and violence."
The strategy is to start with a major crime of the 20th Century, the
Then, using discussion techniques that go back to Socrates, the idea
is to move into what, for many students, is even more unsettling. They
get to talk openly and honestly about such realities as gang shootings,
drug abuse, racial prejudice and fear--here and now--in their own neighborhoods.
"Individuals can affect history," the program's mission statement
suggests, "particularly if they intervene early enough."
That was also the message brought to class Tuesday morning by guest
speaker Richard Nsanzabaganwa, 35, a soft-spoken ethnic Tutsi from Rwanda.
"Share hard times. Talk about them," he urged the class. "You
can do something. If you understand what is happening, you can help
change that history."
What Nsanzabaganwa had come to describe, firsthand, was another horror
of the 20th Century, the 1994 rampage by Hutu militants that led to
the slaughter of some 800,000 Tutsi. Most of his family perished. Only
he and an older sister escaped.
"We lived in the same country. We had the same churches, the same
schools. We intermarried," he said. "Afterward, people talked
about economic, historic and political reasons." But none of those
"justifications," he said, could explain "how people
could kill their neighbors, their friends."
Before the genocide, Nsanzabaganwa, now a law student living in Canada, was one of a handful of Rwandan activists to speak
out against human rights abuses. As Facing History notes, the debasing
and marginalizing of designated scapegoats has been the starting point
of many of the world's debacles.
After the civil war, he returned to Rwanda, leading teams of mobile field workers in gathering
information on the specifics of the mass murders, torture and rape.
These days, in rebuilding the country, the Rwandan government, as a
way of reconciliation, has encouraged a moratorium on teaching such
That, says Nsanzabaganwa, is a bad idea.
"Yes, there is pressure to forget the past," he said, "but
it is necessary to understand what happened, so it won't happen again."
In Kigali, the bullet-scarred capital of a nation of 8 million
people, staffers from Facing History have been working for the last
18 months to help out, along with the National University of Rwanda,
Rwanda Ministry of Education and University of California-Berkeley.
One recent seminar studied the collapse of Germany's WeimarRepublic and the rise of the Nazis in the 1930s. Many of the
students, teachers and parents who took part said, yes, they could relate
what happened there to what happened in Rwanda.
Under pressure from the federal government, Illinois officials are stepping up oversight of an after-school
tutoring program that serves 120,000 disadvantaged children under No
Child Left Behind reforms.
The proposed overhaul will include a more rigid selection process for
tutoring firms, monitoring visits to tutoring sites, a tracking system
to ensure students are progressing, and a grievance procedure to allow
parents and others to report problems.
The changes, which will be voted on by the Illinois State Board of Education
next week, come after a spate of controversies that led federal and
state education officials to conclude that Illinois needs to more aggressively monitor the tutoring program.
"This is an area where we felt we needed to do a better job,"
said Jonathan Furr, general counsel at the State Board of Education.
Beth Swanson, head of after-school programs for Chicago public schools, said she welcomes the changes. Chicago has one of the largest tutoring programs in the nation,
spending $50 million this school year and involving 80,000 children.
"We've asked, and the state agrees, that there needs to be more
definition of roles. It's been very vague this year," Swanson said.
The after-school tutoring is a key provision of the 2002 No Child Left
Behind federal law, which seeks to boost student achievement of children
of all races and economic backgrounds.
States are responsible for selecting tutoring firms and monitoring whether
they help students improve test scores. Currently, 75 tutoring providers
have been approved to serve struggling students in Illinois. Those that fail to increase student performance for
two years in a row are supposed to be taken off the list of providers.
Low-income children in schools that repeatedly fail to pass state testing
standards are eligible for the after-school tutoring. This school year,
457 Illinois schools were required to provide tutoring, and about
120,000 children were served.
But state education officials acknowledge that the monitoring system
in place isn't working. The state has been relying on a one-page form
that asked a series of questions, including whether a district had terminated
a contract with a tutoring provider because student achievement goals
With a limited staff and lacking the necessary data system, the state
was not tracking individual student progress in the tutoring programs.
The federal government has been communicating to Illinois and other states that state government should be taking
a strong role in monitoring the tutoring programs, said Nina Rees, an
assistant deputy secretary at the U.S. Department of Education.
The issue came to a head in Chicago
this past March, when Chicago Public Schools expelled the New York-based
Platform Learning tutoring firm from seven elementary schools, saying
the company wasn't performing. Platform continues to provide tutoring
in several dozen other schools.
The federal government said the state, not the district, should have
handled the problem.
"The district took the lead on something the state was supposed
to be taking the lead on," said Rees.
The controversy over the Platform issue followed an earlier controversy
over Chicago providing its own tutoring services, rather than having
outside providers do the work. Chicago was barred from using federal money for its program,
because it is failing academically and federal rules bar low-performing
districts from offering tutoring themselves.
Furr, the state board's general counsel, said that discussions with
federal officials about Platform, the Chicago tutoring issue, and other issues, persuaded the department
to devote more time, money and staff to overseeing the tutoring program.
Under the proposed overhaul, the department will get help from an outside
organization to help monitor tutoring provider performance and evaluate
applications that tutoring firms submit to be placed on the state-approved
The application process will be more stringent, including requiring
resumes of tutoring staff that will oversee student instructional plans
and requiring information about lawsuits or problems in other states.
The state board will begin tracking student progress through a new data
system that will link student enrollment in tutoring programs and student
scores on state tests. That tracking system is expected to be operating
next school year.
The overhaul also will include a new grievance procedure to allow parents,
students, teachers and providers to report problems directly to the
If a district wants to get rid of a tutoring firm, local officials will
have to notify the state board of their intentions. The state will get
information from both sides to determine if the contractor should in
fact be terminated.
Tutoring providers will also have to submit financial information about
the actual costs of providing services, so the state can ensure districts
aren't being overcharged.
Gene Wade, chairman and CEO of Platform Learning Inc., said in a written
"We are encouraged by the efforts that ISBE has taken to regulate
supplemental educational services. Over the past year, we have been
advocating for these kinds of standards in Illinois and around the country as they bring clarity to the
roles and responsibilities of both school districts and [supplemental
educational services] providers." TOP OF PAGE
Two years after tutoring began, the state today is expected to unveil
a plan to beef up monitoring of private tutors who work with 120,000
kids across Illinois under the federal No Child Left Behind law -- including
new rules to prevent firms from milking the state for extra cash or
bribing kids with toys or money to sign up with their companies.
The plan makes it easier to fire firms that are producing poor results,
but companies that have worked a year or two already are getting a major
Under No Child Left Behind, the state can only fire a firm if it has
failed to raise student achievement for two years. Because the state's
new system to evaluate firms will only start in the fall, companies
in place now -- good and bad ones -- can continue for another two years.
'Current system isn't workable'
"We can't change the fact that this system wasn't in place. . .
. By law, we can't use this system retroactively," said Jonathan
Furr, general counsel for the state Board of Education.
Furr started with the state last fall after Gov. Blagojevich took over
the state board and helped engineer the installation of a new interim
Firms that fall short after one year, Furr noted, must create a plan
"We feel our current system isn't workable -- we don't think any
firms could be removed under that standard," Furr said.
The state board is expected to vote on Furr's plan next week.
Tutoring is required at schools that fail No Child testing standards.
The 2002 mandate has spawned a new industry of private tutors.
The Chicago Public Schools, for example, is paying private firms up
to $50 million this year to tutor about 41,000 kids.
The industry has grown up largely unregulated, and now the feds are
pushing states to more actively monitor the firms. The Illinois state board has had the power to choose and fire firms,
but it had a weak oversight structure, which frustrated Chicago officials.
CPS officials worked with the state on the new plan and say it's a major
"I think it's a good step in the right direction," said Beth
Swanson, CPS' director of after-school programs.
The school district intends to publish test score results for students
working with different firms and satisfaction survey results this summer
to help parents choose firms for next year.
Lower costs seen
If adopted, the new rules would be among the country's most comprehensive,
state officials say. Illinois studied other states while drafting its plan and consulted
with districts and private firms.
Illinois wants to toughen application, renewal and annual reporting
requirements, particularly around finances. Firms will have to lay out
the actual costs to provide tutoring compared with what they take in
Firms charge up to about $2,000 a student for several months of tutoring,
about five times what it costs CPS to tutor in-house. These high costs
limit how many children can be tutored.
"We absolutely think this will drive down the costs," Furr
said. "They'll have to justify what they're offering. If they're
allocating a little to program costs and a lot to profit, they'll have
to justify why they'll be selected." TOP OF PAGE
to get steriod ed
By John Patterson, Daily Herald State Government Editor, 6/10/05 SPRINGFIELD When student athletes report to practice next
fall, there will be a new page in their playbooks steroid education.
A new state law requires all student athletes in Illinois be given specific instruction regarding the dangers
of anabolic steroids. Existing state law requires steroid awareness
and prevention be taught to all students in grades seven through 12.
This new law targets athletes.
Steroid abuse in professional athletes has become a high-profile issue,
with Congress holding hearings and the various professional organizations
clamping down on abusers. State lawmakers hope their efforts will curtail
growing evidence of steroid abuse among teen athletes.
A recent Mayo Clinic study found that 8.2 percent of teenage athletes
in the United States reported using the steroid Creatine and 11 percent of
male athletes and 2.5 percent of female athletes tried anabolic steroids.
Steroid use has been associated with a range of ailments including heart
attacks and liver cancer.
Gov. Rod Blagojevich signed the new law into effect Thursday. It was
sponsored by state Sen. Dave Sullivan, a Park Ridge Republican, and
state Rep. Sidney Mathias, a Buffalo Grove Republican. TOP OF PAGE
In Virginia, Reopening the Gap/ Washington
By Ross Wiener, policy director of the Education Trust, Washington Post, 6/6/05
Closing the academic achievement gap is finally among the highest priorities
of our nation's schools. This focus is entirely right: The divide between
education "haves" and "have-nots" has always been
wide. But in the 1990s, just as education was becoming more important
to success in life, the divide grew even wider. With the passage of
the No Child Left Behind legislation (NCLB) in 2001, Congress acted
decisively to reverse this trend and to demand that public education
close the gap once and for all. The law calls on the states to take
responsibility for educating all children, by holding schools accountable
for success with all -- not just some -- groups of students.
NCLB's accountability provisions are sparking progress. Many states,
including Virginia, are narrowing previously stubborn gaps and boosting
overall achievement. While the law certainly isn't perfect, these early
results are too encouraging to allow the clock to be turned back on
NCLB's accountability provisions. But a proposal from Sen. George Allen
(R-Va.) would do just that. Allen's bill would allow states simply to
walk away from their responsibility to educate African American, Latino
and low-income students.
Before NCLB, schools hid their achievement gaps behind their overall
scores. TakeFairfaxCounty, for instance -- one of the most affluent and highly
regarded school districts in the nation. It turns out that Fairfax public schools are great for some but not others. While
91 percent of Fairfax's white students demonstrate proficiency in English,
only 66 percent of its African American students reached this level
of achievement last year.
As The Post noted in an editorial last November, African American students
across Virginia demonstrate higher levels of learning than similar students
in Fairfax. Indeed, African American students in the Richmond,
Henrico County and Hampton school districts -- all of which are less
wealthy and educate a higher percentage of African American students
-- have been taught to higher levels in English, science and mathematics
than African American students in Fairfax.
To its credit, Virginia was ahead of most states in developing a standards-based
accountability system, and it had seen some gains before NCLB. But Virginia's pre-NCLB accountability system -- which Allen touts
as the basis for his bill -- hid the Fairfax gaps and allowed its schools to neglect the education
of poor and minority students. Before NCLB, Virginia evaluated schools only on overall pass rates, not on
how well different groups of students were educated. That means that
Fairfax would never have been asked or expected to close the
gap between its African American and white students. Allen's proposal
would return us to a system that allows public schools to ignore poor
and minority children.
Under Allen's proposal, states would decide how many students they expected
to be educated to state standards, with no expectation that all or even
most students would be taught to proficiency. The bill pays lip service
to closing the gap but sets no goals or quantifiable benchmarks and
offers no guarantee that students who have historically suffered discrimination
will count as they do under NCLB. The bill is a dramatic retreat from
the cause of equity and from the students who most need the su pport
of federal law.
Fortunately, Congress has held firm in its support for greater educational
equity. The Democrats and Republicans who worked together to give the
nation a new tool for equity in public education have so far rebuffed
every attempt to weaken the law. The Allen bill should likewise be rejected
as a retreat from the hard and necessary work of educating all children
to high standards. TOP OF PAGE
LAKEWOOD, Colo. -- Officials in the school district including ColumbineHigh
have squelched the idea of filming a movie at another county school
because it deals partly with bullying.
JeffersonCounty school officials said they were concerned that filming
''The Sensei'' at AlamedaHigh
would reopen the wounds of Columbine, where 12 students and one teacher
were fatally shot by two students in 1999. The teen gunmen, who also
shot and killed themselves, had complained that they were bullied.
''Our understanding is the scenes that were going to be filmed in the
school were violent scenes,'' Supt. Cindy Stevenson said. ''We are still
a healing community.''
The movie by Diana Lee Inosanto is about a gay teen who learns martial
arts after being bullied by high school jocks in the 1980s, at the start
of the AIDS epidemic.
Stevenson said the board's denial last month had nothing to do with
the film's treatment of gays and AIDS. TOP OF PAGE
Maine mom serves daughter's detention Chicago Sun-Times
WINSLOW, Maine -- Standing in for her daughter, Danielle Pelletier
spent one hour in detention at WinslowHigh
The 39-year-old mother reported to Room 24 on Friday afternoon, taking
the punishment meted out for her daughter's unexcused absence.
Pelletier said she sought to serve the detention herself because she
was the one who elected to pull her daughter out of class for a hair-styling
appointment a half hour before the school day ended.
Pelletier, a hospital nurse, also said she wanted to protest what she
felt was an unjust policy.
"The whole point of this is this shouldn't be happening,"
School administrators defended their actions, saying the need for an
excused absence is spelled out by state law. Pelletier's reason for
missing school did not fall under the established criteria, which include
illness, medical appointments and religious holidays.
Missouri education department wants personal finance class to
Arming students against the dangers of credit cards, payday loans and
other financial pitfalls is an important part of Donna Lute's finance
class at ScottCityHigh
Unfortunately, 23 percent of the 340 or so students at the high school
ever take the class, which is not currently required for graduation.
Other students either learn from their parents or figure it out the
hard way -- a problem that has state education officials and the Missouri
This month, the Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education
plans to ask the State Board of Education to require students to take
a course in personal finance economics before graduating from high school.
The recommendation comes after a study commissioned by the state legislature
in 2002 showed severe deficiencies in Missouri students' knowledge of personal finance and a recent
update indicated that the issue is not improving.
"I think it's awesome. Every senior should have that class,"
Lutes said. "It's too easy for kids to get into big credit-card
debt and not realize how long it takes to dig out."
A 2005 House resolution supports not only a required high school course
but integration of the subject into kindergarten through 12th-grade
curriculum, the Missouri House of Representatives pointed out that Missouri students scored a failing grade of 53.8 percent on a
national survey of finance knowledge.
According to DESE director of public information Jim Morris, the finance
course requirement proposal will go through a public comment period
before a final decision is made by the board this fall.
Though the draft for the proposal is not yet complete, Morris said he
believes it will recommend a separate course worth half a unit toward
graduation requirements. If passed, the requirement would probably apply
to this year's eighth-graders, or the graduating class of 2010.
"There's a range of opinions about the personal finance topic.
Some school districts already have requirements of their own,"
One concern is that requiring the course limits the electives students
can select. Over all, though, Morris said there has been considerable
support for such as a class.
Central, Jackson and ScottCity high schools all offer classes that cover personal finance
issues, though officials in those schools said they're not sure if their
courses would meet the requirements of DESE's proposal.
principal Dr. Mike Cowan said his school requires half a unit in either
consumer education, finance management or business law for graduation.
Cowan said he supports an official state requirement for personal finance
"Research has been clear for several years that there's a need
for that kind of information," said Cowan.
principal Rick McClard said his school offers three finance-related
courses -- practical business, agriculture economics and management
and business economics. Students are required to take one of those courses,
in which they learn about finance-related issues such as checkbooks,
insurance, rent and cost of living, McClard said.
"It's a shock for some students. They think they're going to go
out and make $1 million. They don't realize how much it takes just to
survive," McClard said. TOP OF PAGE Missouri school funding case will proceed
Kelly Wiese, Associated Press (St. Louis Post-Dispatch)
CITY, Mo. (AP) -- The attorney for more than 250 school districts
suing the state over school funding declared Tuesday the case will proceed
despite lawmakers' approval of a new funding plan this spring.
The group of districts, called the Committee for Educational Equality,
met over the weekend and agreed to press on. None has decided to drop
out of the lawsuit yet, but attorney Alex Bartlett said he expects some
will while others may join.
The lawsuit claims the current formula, which would remain partly in
effect until the 2012-13 school year, doesn't provide schools enough
money and distributes the money unfairly.
Bartlett said he planned to amend the lawsuit, possibly by the
end of June, to also incorporate concerns with the new spending plan
that aims to base state funding more on student needs than local property
The new plan is expected to add about $800 million a year, when fully
phased in, to the roughly $2.5 billion the state already distributes
to public schools through its spending formula.
Lawmakers who led the drive to change the formula said the current system
is broken and needs to be fixed, but acknowledged the change was unlikely
to end the lawsuit.
The plan's chief architect, Senate Majority Leader Charlie Shields,
R-St. Joseph, has said he hopes a judge will consider the new plan sufficient,
even if districts choose not to drop the litigation. He also said as
the case proceeds, districts might find it too expensive to remain a
party in the suit.
BROOKLINE -- All first-graders at the DriscollSchool can write numbers 1 through 10, name the colors, and
talk about plants and the solar system -- in Mandarin Chinese.
They began studying Chinese in kindergarten.
Chinese, a language most school systems don't offer until high school,
if at all, is becoming popular in elementary classrooms around Greater
Boston, as well as elsewhere in the nation. Spanish still reigns as
the most popular language, but parents and lawmakers hope that Chinese
soon will become commonly taught. School systems are starting the lessons
with the youngest students in hope they learn the language well enough
to compete in the new world economy, as China becomes an economic and political superpower.
During the last two to five years, schools in Sharon and Brookline have started elementary Chinese programs. Milton and Needham school systems offer Chinese before or after school.
Belmont began offering Chinese instruction to all of its fifth-graders
this year. The Carlisle school system is considering adding a pilot program
in Chinese for elementary students this fall, and Amherst wants to add Chinese instruction for kindergartners
in fall 2006.
The Asia Society in New
estimates that about 24,000 of the 49.5 million elementary and high
school students in the United States are studying Chinese, even though nearly 1.3 billion
people speak Chinese in the world; the smallest proportion of US students
studying the language are in elementary school. By comparison, more
than 1 million students study French, a language spoken by 80 million
''China just is going to be a future power," said Marie
Doyle, Carlisle superintendent. ''It behooves us to make sure the children
are really studying the culture, the customs, and the language. The
more they know, the more successful they will be in the business world."
Educators say early exposure to Chinese is critical. Chinese takes nearly
three times as long as Spanish to master, according to the Foreign Service
Institute, which trains American diplomats for the State Department.
It takes 1,300 hours to achieve proficiency in speaking Chinese, while
people need 480 hours to become proficient in French and Spanish.
At the MichaelDriscollSchool, which began its elementary Chinese program five years
ago, about half of the students switch from Chinese to Spanish in the
seventh grade. But first-grader Daria Taubin said she plans to continue
learning Chinese through high school.
''I want to keep learning, learning, learning and then go to China," said the 6-year-old. ''I teach my mom every word
I really know."
Her classmate Ibi Agba, who speaks a Nigerian dialect at home, said
Chinese has been hard to learn because some of the sentences are too
long to remember. But the 6-year-old said he likes writing pinyin, the
English pronunciations of Chinese words, and impressing his parents.Continued...
''When I speak Chinese to them, they say, 'Wow,' " he said.
Some Brookline parents, though, are not convinced that Chinese is the
best way to go. Given the amount of time required for proficiency, some
parents say they think their children's time may be better spent learning
an easier language, like Spanish.
''After a few years of Spanish you can develop some basic conversational
skills," said Bill Gardner, a Brookline teacher who has a sixth-grader at Driscoll who is learning
Chinese. ''It's not clear to me how many students at Driscoll have developed
much conversational fluency in Chinese after five years."
Last week, first-graders wrote sentences describing potted plants on
their desks, using Chinese words for little, tall, leaf, and green,
as their teacher doled out high fives.
By the time the students are in eighth grade, they should know how to
read and write short essays using simplified Chinese characters and
to hold conversations in Chinese, said Huajing Maske, director of the
DriscollSchool's Chinese program.
Driscoll parent Christopher Koch said he's grateful that his second-grade
daughter has the opportunity to learn Chinese at such a young age. When
the family goes to Chinese restaurants, his daughter can order her food
in Chinese, he said.
''I just see how important this is going to be for the economic future
of our kids," Koch said. ''It's great to feel we're on the leading
edge of that."
The Boston and Cambridge school systems have offered Chinese in elementary schools
for about a decade. In Amherst and Needham, the presence of many adopted children from China is playing a role in introducing Chinese to students.
Needham began the instruction on a fee basis this year, while
Amherst wants to start offering Chinese to kindergartners in
one school in fall 2006.
School officials say that starting and maintaining Chinese-language
programs in elementary schools is a challenge. Textbooks are scarce,
as are qualified teachers. Paying for the programs is also tough when
some school systems are reducing foreign language offerings.
Many area Chinese programs started with grant money, on the idea that
the school system and municipality would eventually pick up the tab.
Brookline used to offer Chinese in two other elementary schools,
but their grants expired last year. The school system hopes the town
will pay for additional Chinese programs, along with Spanish and Japanese,
by fall 2006.
Financial help could come soon from the federal government, which wants
to see Chinese language instruction grow. Two weeks ago, Senators Joseph
I. Lieberman, a Connecticut Democrat, and Lamar Alexander, a Tennessee
Republican, introduced a bill that would provide $1.3 billion in federal
money over five years to pay for Chinese language programs in American
schools, as well as cultural exchanges to improve US-China relations.
Another push for Chinese, educators say, is coming from the College
Board's decision to add a Mandarin Chinese Advanced Placement program
in fall 2006. The board administers the college-level AP tests.
''The fact that Chinese is now under the AP umbrella, that gives it
an importance that other, less commonly taught languages might not have,"
said Gracie Burke, world languages director in Milton, which began its
Chinese program two years ago.
If funding were not an issue, she would also like to add Arabic, because
of heightened awareness of the need for Arabic interpreters, Burke said.
''At a time of national crisis we sort of go, 'Oh, my goodness' and
realize languages are important at that particular moment," she
said. ''But the crisis goes away, and we sort of go back to the way
we were, monolingual." TOP OF PAGE
RICHMOND, Va. -- Texas Instruments is replacing thousands of calculators
issued to students in Virginia after a 6th grader discovered that pressing a certain
two keys converts decimals into fractions.
That would have given students an unfair advantage on Virginia's standardized tests, which require youngsters to know
how to make such conversions with pencil and paper.
At the request of the state education department two years ago, Texas
Instruments had disabled the decimal-to-fraction key and left it blank
on calculators intended for middle-school students.
But in January, Dakota Brown, a 12-year-old in suburban Richmond's ChesterfieldCounty, figured out that pressing two other keys on his state-approved
calculator could change decimals into fractions anyway.
"His fellow students were so proud of him and congratulatory. They
didn't call him a nerd or anything," said Michael Bolling, a school
official in ChesterfieldCounty. The county had more than 11,000 of the calculators
Texas Instruments is replacing them. The company had no immediate comment
Initial estimates the company provided the state indicated 160,000 calculators
were to be replaced, but the exact number is unclear, said Lois Williams,
state administrator for middle-school math education.
Calls to the boy's school and his parents were not immediately returned.
But school officials held a ceremony to honor him, and Texas Instruments
sent him a graphing calculator, "which he loved," Williams
KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- The government has been looking at the possibility
of terrorists targeting food destined for school cafeterias, a federal
food safety official said Monday.
"The school lunch program is particularly vulnerable," said
Carol Maczka, an administrator within the Agriculture Department's Food
Safety Inspection Service.
Maczka, speaking to the annual conference of the Association of Food
and Drug Officials, offered no evidence of specific threats to school
She said her office has studied the vulnerability of three products:
milk, spaghetti sauce and egg substitutes. Currently, officials are
looking at how a popular lunchroom staple, chicken nuggets, may be susceptible
Federal officials have distributed a food safety checklist to school
lunch providers, who must show evidence of a food safety plan, Maczka
She said vulnerabilities noted in the supply chain were classified,
but that changes had been made to improve safety.
The Association of Food and Drug Officials conference, in its 109th
year, focuses primarily on food safety and security. Aside from bioterrorism,
speakers touched on other threats, from risks from imported foods to
nuclear attacks and animal diseases such as avian flu. TOP OF PAGE
Title IX suit rejected
Appeal denied: Supreme Court declines to hear arguments in suit brought
against federal officials by wrestling coaches
The Associated Press, 6/7/05 WASHINGTON - The Supreme Court refused to consider reinstating
a lawsuit that accuses federal officials of discriminating against male
athletes in enforcing equal opportunities for women.
Justices, without comment, rejected an appeal Monday from the National
Wrestling Coaches Association and other groups that have been fighting
federal policies under the anti-discrimination law known as Title IX.
At issue for the court was whether the challengers showed that the law
directly caused a reduction in men's sports and whether they should
be allowed to sue federal officials.
The Supreme Court has indicated a special interest recently in Title
IX, the 1972 law that bars sex discrimination in any educational program
receiving federal funds.
In March, justices ruled 5-4 that a teacher or coach who claims sexual
discrimination on behalf of others is protected from firing under the
That decision expands the scope of the law to protect whistle-blowers
as well as direct victims.
Then last month, the justices told a lower court to reconsider whether
Michigan high schools
discriminated against female athletes by scheduling their basketball
and volleyball seasons during nontraditional times of the year.
The latest case involved claims that the government is forcing colleges
to discriminate against male athletes because of a requirement that
the ratio of male and female athletes be similar to the overall student
''If unchecked, the gender quota will continue to cause sweeping injustices
and discrimination in colleges nationwide, and is already being applied
to public high schools,'' justices were told in a brief filed by the
Eagle Forum Education & Legal Defense Fund.
Over the past two decades, the number of wrestling teams at NCAA schools
has dropped from 363 to 222 while football teams increased from 497
to 619, according to NCAA leaders. Title IX has been blamed for part
of the decline.
In addition to men's wrestling team cuts, other schools have dropped
outdoor track, swimming programs and ice hockey, the court was told.
A divided panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia
Circuit said the lawsuit should have been filed against individual colleges
that eliminated men's sports, not the federal government.
Title IX covers admissions, recruitment, course offerings, counseling,
financial aid, student health and student housing as well as athletics.
TOP OF PAGE
Ohio abstinence-education programs contain false information
and disregard the needs of sexually active or homosexual youths, according
to a new report from a public health professor.
One abstinence program, for example, tells teens they should "be
prepared to die" if they use condoms because the contraceptives
are likely to slip off or break, Scott Frank, a professor at Case Western
Reserve University in Cleveland, said in a report released yesterday.
However, "an authoritative study" by Consumer Reports magazine
found that "with correct use," condoms break as little as
2 percent of the time and slip off as little as 1 percent of the time,
said Dr. Frank, a family physician who directs the university's public
Abstinence-until-marriage programs also fail to provide information
needed by youths who are sexually active and homosexual youths, Dr.
Abstinence is an important part of sex education, he added, but the
federal definitions for abstinence education too often "tie the
hands of educators."
Congress should consider broadening the definitions so federal funds
can be used to meet "a full range of teen needs," he said,
adding that abstinence curricula should be reviewed by experts and abstinence
teachers should be credentialed in sexual and reproductive health.
Abstinence supporter Libby Gray said the Case report was "another
veiled attempt" to steer schools and communities back to failed
Project Reality and other abstinence programs give teens medically accurate
information about disease and pregnancy, and teach refusal skills and
life skills not "condom skills," said Miss Gray, who
directs Project Reality in Glenview, Ill.
The Case report is, itself, "riddled" with inaccuracies about
abstinence programs, said Catherine Tijerina, executive director of
the Ridge Project, which oversees abstinence education in 11 Ohio counties.
Dr. Frank's suggestions that abstinence education doesn't work or that
teens are denied contraceptive-style sex education are untrue, she said.
Research shows that teen birthrates are falling more because of sexual
abstinence than contraceptive use, she said.
But others are applauding Dr. Frank's work.
Dr. Frank's report "provides yet more evidence to Congress that
the [Bush] administration is failing miserably on oversight of these
[abstinence] programs," said Bill Smith, public policy leader of
the Sexuality Information and Education Council of the United States,
which supports comprehensive sex education.
Later this week, Mr. Smith said, a congressional committee led by Rep.
Ralph Regula, Ohio Republican, is slated to consider new federal funding
for abstinence education. Mr. Regula and his colleagues "have an
incredible opportunity to send a clear message of 'no new money'"
for abstinence programs, he said. TOP OF PAGE
Concerned that public schools are becoming sites of liberal indoctrination,
activists have generated a wave of efforts to limit what teachers may
discuss and to bring more conservative views into the classroom.
After all, they say, if related campaigns can help rein in doctrinaire
faculty on college campuses, why not in K-12 education as well?
So far this year, at least 14 state legislatures have considered bills
aimed at colleges that would restrict professors and establish grievance
procedures for students who perceive political bias in teaching. None
have become law, but the movement has momentum: Four state universities
in Colorado, for instance, adopted the principles under legislative
pressure in 2004.
"The last six months [have] been kind of a watershed for the academic-freedom
movement," says Bradley Shipp, national field director for Students
for Academic Freedom, a group founded by conservative activist David
Horowitz in 2003. "It is going to filter itself down to the K-12
It's an important battle front, proponents say, because younger students
are more impressionable. They are concerned about multicultural lesson
plans that go into detail about the Muslim faith, and cite incidents
such as a young child being reprimanded by a teacher for writing about
wanting to become a soldier.
An aggrieved faction of conservative high school students and parents
appears eager to take up the cause:
ProtestWarrior.com has equipped 160 high school chapters and
about 100 individual students with materials to publicize, for instance,
whenever a teacher "tries to shove his ideology down someone's
A group known as Christian Copts of California has distributed 5,000 booklets in Florida and California this year denouncing a seventh-grade world history section
as an "attempt to engrave Islam in the minds of ... children."
Parents and Students for Academic Freedom formed in August 2004
to give parents a forum to address "the one-sided teaching and
partisan indoctrination in our nation's secondary schools." The
group urges school boards and legislatures to adopt the same speech-restricting
principles that its parent organization (Students for Academic Freedom)
urges at the college level.
A cybercommunity, Republicanvoices.org, based in Massachusetts, is soliciting testimony from K-12 students about political
bias in the classroom. Led by a 12-year-old editor (with guidance from
adults), it aims to leverage support for reform of what it calls "the
liberal, bureaucratic, public school indoctrination machine."
These proposed remedies will spawn their own set of problems, some observers
say. Teachers who are "ideologically coloring a subject" in
any direction are troublingly out of line, but "the risk is that
teachers will feel even further restrained than they already do,"
says Patricia Sullivan, director of the Center on Education Policy,
a Washington think tank that advocates for public schools.
Current events discussions, for instance, would become next to impossible
in such an environment, Ms. Sullivan says. "[It would be] very
difficult to not cross the line.... A teacher could very easily in a
course of normal conversation express views, and I just don't know how
you regulate that."
American Federation of Teachers spokeswoman Leslie Getzinger would not
comment specifically on the trend, saying the group is for the moment
focused on priorities such as meeting the standards of the federal No
Child Left Behind law. But the AFT does oppose on principle efforts
to curtail a perceived liberal bias at colleges, stating in a 2004 resolution
that "political control and/or interference in scholarship and
teaching are totally incompatible with the maintenance and development
of a free, democratic and progressive society."
Some self-described conservative students, however, are not content
with the status quo.
Tyler Whitney, a junior at East LansingHigh
in Michigan, says teachers and administrators let him circulate
his newspaper, The Right Way, only after a public protest this spring
and coverage of the standoff in the local news.
Principal Paula Steele says the school permitted distribution of The
Right Way as soon as editors deleted submissions by college students,
because "we do not want to be a forum for outside speakers."
Ideology, she says, was never a factor.
In class, Tyler says, he still keeps his views to himself. When a world
history teacher last year characterized the Iraq war as an empire-building bid for oil, he says, "I
just shook my head and went along with it because I didn't want to get
a bad grade."
Students in primary and secondary schools tend to feel "intimidated,"
due to the "imbalance of power" in the classroom, says Gerard
Balan, managing editor of Republicanvoices.org. "[Students] are
not really going to want to rock the boat even if they disagree with
what the teacher is saying."
And when most of those teachers belong to unions that support Democrats,
he and other activists say, the political compass tends to tilt left.
For some, the new assertiveness among parents and students is a response
to restrictions at security- conscious schools. One example from the
libertarian Rutherford Institute: the use of dogs in drug searches.
The institute, based in Charlottesville, Va., also objects to the "uniformity and conformity"
required by some schools, says president John Whitehead. It filed suit
May 17 against Hudson (Mass.) High School for allegedly tearing down posters for
the High School Conservative Clubs of America.
The posters, hung by senior Chris Bowler, were provocative. They touted
the clubs' Web site, which links to footage of beheadings at the hands
of Islamic extremists. The site says the images show "the true
doctrines of Islam put into action."
"Unfortunately, students are treated as semi-inmates in lots of
schools," Mr. Whitehead says. "The problem is there aren't
many people like Chris Bowler who will stand up and fight back."
HudsonHigh School did not respond to requests for comment.
Some observers envision liberal and conservative families lining up
in pursuit of separate educations. Because ideological policing of the
classroom may prove impossible, support could grow for vouchers for
values-driven education, says Michelle Easton, president of the conservative
Clare Booth Luce Policy Institute in Herndon, Va.
"Our primary approach is to promote school choice, because then
parents can pick little right-wing schools, little left-wing schools,
little traditional schools whatever they want for their children,"
Mrs. Easton says. "Then you get the government out the business
of, 'You can't do this, you can't do that.' " TOP OF PAGE
PHILADELPHIA -- In what could be a first in the United States, the Philadelphia school system will soon require that all high school
students take a year of African and African-American studies.
Leaders of the school district, where two-thirds of the students are
black, say they hope the course will not only keep those students interested
in their academic work but also give others a more accurate view of
''We have a whole continent that has been absent from most of our textbooks,''
said Paul Vallas, the district's chief executive officer and former
leader of the Chicago Public Schools.
Educators will no doubt be watching the Philadelphia experiment, unanimously approved by the five-person
School Reform Commission this spring.
''School districts all across the country try all kinds of different
things to engage the kids and improve student performance,'' said Michael
Casserly, executive director of the Council of the Great City Schools.
''So this will be of interest, but it won't necessarily create a stampede
in this direction.''
Some parents oppose requiring the course, including Miriam Foltz, president
of the Home and School Association at BaldiMiddle School.
''There are other races in this city,'' said Foltz, who is white. ''There
are other cultures that will be very offended by this. How can you just
mandate a course like this?''
One student said she wondered about singling out African-American history
as a requirement for graduation.
''It's a big world. You have to think about everyone else, too'' said
Briggitte Rodriguez, 14, a freshman at PhiladelphiaHigh
for Girls, which is 62 percent black.
Other students saw the requirement as an improvement on Black History
Month for the schools.
''They usually just focus on African-American history in February, and
it should be all year round,'' said Victoria Pertell, who is black. TOP OF PAGE
Thomas Benya wore a braided bolo tie under his purple graduation gown
this week as a subtle tribute to his Native American heritage.
Administrators at his CharlesCounty school decided the string tie was too skinny. They denied
him his diploma, at least temporarily, as punishment.
Thomas Benya says the bolo tie he wore to graduation for CharlesCounty's McDonoughHigh
reflects his heritage. (By Mark Gail -- The Washington Post)
The bolo, common in contemporary American Indian culture, is not considered
a tie by his public school in Pomfret. If Benya wants the diploma, he
will have to schedule a conference with the administrators.
What his parents say they want is an apology from MauriceJ.McDonoughHigh
for embarrassing their son and failing to respect the Cherokee background
of his father's ancestors.
"The schools in CharlesCounty are asking him to ignore his heritage," Marsha
Benya said as she turned to face her 17-year-old son. "I want you
to be proud of it."
"I am proud of it," he said, sitting in her real estate office
in Waldorf, where he plans to work this summer before enrolling at the
College of Southern Maryland.
The high school is sticking to its policy. The dress code is mandatory
for seniors who choose to participate in the graduation ceremony. And
Benya was told during a dress rehearsal Tuesday that his black bolo
with a silver and onyx clasp the size of a silver dollar was "not
"We have many students with many different cultural heritages,
and there are many times to display that," said school district
spokeswoman Katie O'Malley-Simpson.
"But graduation is a time when we have a formal, uniform celebration.
If kids are going to participate, they need to respect the rules."
Controversies over student attire at graduation are perennial, and school
districts try to avoid confusion by sending letters to parents and seniors
months in advance. In Prince
County, for example, graduating seniors are told "they are not
to wear any kind of additional accents," said schools spokesman
"We set the standard to make sure all our ceremonies are formal
and respectful," he said.
In March, Benya's high school sent a letter to parents and seniors explaining
that "adherence to the dress code is mandatory," with the
word mandatory in bold and underlined. For girls: white dresses or skirts
with white blouses. For boys: dark dress pants with white dress shirts
That left Benya's classmates free to wear bright orange, red and striped
ties under their gowns at the ceremony Wednesday at the Show Place Arena
in Upper Marlboro. One senior girl wore a headscarf and long pants for
"The First Amendment protects religion, and we do everything possible
to honor that," O'Malley-Simpson said. "There is nothing that
requires us to follow everyone's different cultures."
Thomas Benya says the bolo tie he wore to graduation for CharlesCounty's McDonoughHigh
reflects his heritage. (By Mark Gail -- The Washington Post)
The courts have ruled that students have limited rights to express themselves
at school as long as their behavior is not disruptive. A 1969 Supreme
Court case, Tinker v. Des Moines, sided with students who wanted to
wear black armbands to school to protest the Vietnam War.
David Rocah, a staff lawyer with the American Civil Liberties Union
of Maryland, said there are limits to those rights. Carrying political
placards or wearing a clown suit to graduation would presumably be disruptive.
The question, he said, is whether a bolo tie under a gown is disruptive.
"There's nothing wrong with wanting graduation to be a formal occasion,"
he said, "but the idea that everyone should look the same -- they're
not all the same."
Rocah called the school's interpretation a "narrow and cramped
view of personal autonomy."
Benya grew up hearing stories about his paternal grandmother's father
and grandfather, who lived in dismal conditions on a Cherokee reservation
in Oklahoma. He attends powwows and has worn an heirloom turquoise
and silver bracelet for as long as he can remember.
He favors black clothes and prefers working backstage with lights and
sound to performing in plays. He said he wasn't looking to cause a scene.
"It's my way of relating back to my past and showing who I am,"
he said. TOP OF PAGE
States Report Reading First Yielding Gains Some Schools Getting Ousted for Quitting
By Kathleen Kennedy Manzo, Education Week, 6/8/05
Washington - Little solid evidence is available to gauge whether
the federal governments multibillion-dollar Reading First initiative
is having an effect on student achievement, but many states are reporting
anecdotally that they are seeing benefits for their schools.
Among those benefits are extensive professional development in practices
deemed to be research-based, extra instructional resources, and ongoing
support services, according to an Education Week analysis of state performance
The program forged under the No Child Left Behind Act is expected to
pump $6 billion into reading programs over six years. Already, more
than 4,700 schools have received grants, though a small number of schools
have been dropped from the program for failing to fulfill its implementation
or accountability requirements.
Hard data on the programs effectiveness are still a year or more
away, but many state officials say they have received widespread reports
from schools and districts of improved morale, more effective instruction,
and, in a few cases, higher test scores.
The optimism is tempered, however, by the problems some states have
encountered in recruiting enough qualified reading coaches and staff
members to help push the program along. And some in the field continue
to maintain that the initiative has restricted local control over curricular
and instructional decisions.
Findings from the Education Week review coincide with a study from the
Washington-based Center on Education Policy, released last week.
While many states responding to the centers national survey on
the subject praised the measure for promoting greater rigor in reading
instruction, others said it is too inflexible. Reading
instruction has been affected significantly in participating schools
and districts, according to the CEP study, but many respondents were
uncertain about whether carrying out the Reading First agenda has led
to improved instruction.
Moreover, concern is widespread that the program is being implemented
too strictly, that it favors a handful of consultants and commercial
products, and that the assessment of schools and students may be inappropriate.
The main message is that this is a very important program and
not enough attention is being paid to it, said CEP President Jack
Jennings, a former longtime education aide to House Democrats. We
can say Reading First is having an impactdistricts are changing
their reading programsbut we dont know yet if thats
for the better or for the worse.
The annual reports from Reading First coordinators in each state, the
District of Columbia, and several U.S. territories were submitted to the U.S. Department of
Education last fall, but were made available for review only recently.
The program is being implemented very well at the state and local
level, Sandi Jacobs, a senior education program specialist for
the Education Department, said in a recent interview.
Indeed, some states, particularly those that have been taking part in
the program for several years, credit Reading First with driving dramatic
Florida has trained some 16,000 of its 35,000 K-3 teachers in research-based
methods and has already seen some gains in 3rd grade reading scores;
teachers in Colorado have been learning to use assessment results to
design more immediate intervention plans for struggling students; and
California officials are continuing to adapt principles from Reading
Firstadherence to a prescribed instructional program and additional
training in using those materialsto nonparticipating schools statewide.
We have made a commitment to touch as many teachers and students
and principals with Reading First as we can, whether they are eligible
[or not], said Mary Laura Openshaw, the director of Floridas
reading initiative, which has opened up Reading First training sessions
to all K-3 teachers and administrators in the state. Just because their
school doesnt participate, she said, we dont want
to deny the services to the kids.
Those training sessions, which often last several days and may be offered
several times a year, have proved challenging in many states, where
officials report that qualified presenters are hard to find. In some
cases, a dearth of candidates to conduct professional-development workshops
forced delays in implementation.
Michigan, one of the first states to win Reading First money,
continued to have difficulty getting consistent and adequate materials
to trainers and teachers. Costs for the training and materialsprovided
through a contract with Sopris West, a Longmont, Colo.-based company
that sells assessments and training servicesalso went up unexpectedly.
Overall, however, Michigans report says that schools in the program are making
By and large, its going really well, said Faith Stevens,
who oversees Michigan Reading First. I wouldnt say its
been completely smooth sailing, but the program has grown, and
the grantees feel really proud of what theyve been able to accomplish.
Kicked Out, Dropped Out
It was not smooth sailing for several Michigan schools. Six schoolsthree in Detroit, two in Muskegon,
and one in Saginawwere dropped after failing to make the progress
outlined in the grant requirements.
Throughout the country, a small number of other schools have been cut
from the program primarily because of changes in leadership or because
of consolidation. A handful of other schools, however, lost their grants
from the voluntary program after failing to show sufficient progress
on standardized tests. Participating schools, many of them enrolling
predominantly disadvantaged children, agreed to follow detailed plans
for improving reading instruction and must show progress in student
performance within two years.
Other schools bowed out of Reading First after administrators determined
it was not meeting expectations.
The superintendent in Madison, Wis., withdrew five schools in the 24,000-student district
from Reading First after a federal reviewer suggested its literacy program
gave teachers too much leeway in using their judgment over instruction
and focused too much on teaching children to read for meaning.
The reviewerfrom the Western Regional Reading First Technical
Assistance Center at the University of Oregonrecommended that
the district abandon its existing literacy program and adopt a commercial
series, according to Superintendent Art Rainwater.
It is not reasonable nor would data support [the district] in
following [the reviewers] suggestion to eliminate our current
program and purchase a single published program, Mr. Rainwater
wrote in a memo to the Madison school board in October. The district could have qualified
for an additional $2 million in Reading First grants over the next several
In the months since, Mr. Rainwater has not regretted the decision, he
said last week. Ultimately, he said, teachers need the knowledge and
skills to decide the best approach for teaching their students. They
demanded that we have daily scripted lesson plans for teachers,
the superintendent said, but that violates one of the basic tenets
of what we believe is important for reading instruction.
Other schools grants have been discontinued because the recipients
refused to change instructional programs. Several California schools, for example, lost their grants after deciding
to continue with the Success for All program.
When our district applied for and brought in Reading First, we
thought at first we would be able to mesh the two programs, Kathy
Stecher, the principal at MorenoElementary
in Montclair, Calif., said, adding that the school attributed significant
student progress to Success for All.
Three schools in her Ontario-Montclair district, in fact, were dropped
from Reading First. Although the district intended to combine Success
for All with Reading First, Ms. Stecher said, we were told no,
we could not by Reading First officials.
Success for All, which takes a schoolwide approach to bolstering learning
and preventing reading difficulties in young children, has perhaps the
strongest research base of all the commercial reading programs. ("Long-Awaited
Study Shows Success for All Gains," May 11, 2005.)
Despite such evidence, some Success for All schools have been denied
grants under Reading First, according to Robert Slavin, a professor
of education at Johns Hopkins University and a founder of Success for
All. Others, he charged, were pressured to switch to other commercial
programs in order to get the money.
Schools are being discouraged. If they do apply [using
Success for All], they are not getting funded, Mr. Slavin said.
If they happen to get Reading First funding, they are put under
enormous pressure to drop it or make modifications to gut it.
Reading First, he said, has really turned into a major
disaster for us.
According to an Education Department spokeswoman, Elaine Quesinberry,
many Reading First schools use Success for All,
The California schools dropped from the program did not meet state requirements
that one of two state-approved commercial programsHoughton Mifflin
and Open Courtbe used in Reading First schools, according to Patricia
Webb, a consultant with the states professional-development and
About 100 Success for All schools are in Reading First, Mr. Slavin said.
Telling the Tale
Complaints that the federal program tends to favor a handful of reading
texts and experts have persisted since the program was rolled out in
2002. Federal officials have tried to dispel misconceptions that an
approved list of products or consultants exists. Over the
past several years, however, educators and publishers have continued
to complain that the program is overly prescriptive.
Just last month, a former state education official in Georgia filed
complaints with the state inspector general charging that officials
had added requirements that resulted in texts she publishes being unfairly
left out of the running for Reading First funds. ("Ga. Officials Admit Mistakes on Reading First
Rules," May 11, 2005.)
Mr. Jennings, of the Center on Education Policy, said that policymakers
and federal officials should be taking a closer look at those issues.
But federal officials say that states have chosen to be prescriptive
in order to ensure that teachers adhere to proven practices.
Were looking forward to getting the next set of data from
the [current] school year, the Education Departments Ms.
Jacobs said. Its going to tell the tale.
What the States Are Saying About Federal Initiative
Reading First provides a linking mechanism among state reading
programs and initiatives. Reading First also helps the state build on
the infrastructure necessary to ubiquitously promote scientifically
based reading research as the foundation for K-3 assessment, progress
monitoring, intervention, curriculum, and core basal acquisition programs.
From the end of 2003 to the end of 2004, the percentage of students
achieving at the lowest level on the [Florida Comprehensive Assessment
Test] decreased by 3 percentage points, while all schools in Florida
showed a 1 percent decrease. At the same time, the percentage of students
performing at grade level on the FCAT in Reading First schools increased
by 5 percentage points, while all schools increased their percentage
of students reading at grade level by 3 percentage points. Florida
The implementation challenges in the first year of Reading First
have centered on the difficulties in recruitment of highly qualified
professional staff at the regional and district level to fill the roles
of Reading First coordinators, coaches, and assessment specialists.
The available level of expertise to support Reading First goals was
found to be less than optimal. New York
Staffing has been a problem from the beginning. We presently have
no field coordinators, no content coordinator, and no professional-development
coordinator. We have experienced delays in processing subgrants due
to these staffing issues. New Jersey
The student population at CalcedeaverElementary
is 95 percent Native American, with 86 percent of the students receiving
free or reduced lunch. Calcedeaver is proud to have ranked second in
the state (first among K-3 schools) on the DIBELS (Dynamic Indicators
of Basic Early Literacy Skills) assessment. Alabama
Coaches point to changes in teacher behavior after attending training
or modeled lessons. Coaches have also stressed the use of student-assessment
data to plan and drive instruction. Assessments have provided valuable
in-depth information about students skills and instructional needs,
particularly those students who are at risk or in need of additional
SOURCE: U.S. Department of Education, State Performance Reports,
Florida Voucher System Argued Before State Supreme Court By Alan Richard, Education Week, 6/7/05
The Florida Supreme Court heard oral arguments June 7 in a case that
could determine the future of school vouchers in the state and set the
pace for school choice policies across the nation.
Lawyers for each side sparred over the role of religion in many of the
private schools that receive vouchers under Floridas Opportunity Scholarships program.
Justices on the seven-member court also questioned whether public money
for K-12 schools should be used in private schools at all, whether other
forms of state aid to religious institutions would be at risk if the
vouchers are struck down, and whether federal law barring discrimination
against religious institutions applies to this case, Bush v. Holmes.
Named on one side for Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, a Republican who first
proposed the Opportunity Scholarships, and on the other for retired
educator and teachers union official Ruth D. Holmes, the case
will determine whether the Florida Constitution permits the publicly
Two lower courts have ruled the Opportunity Scholarships violate the
Florida Constitutions language stating that No revenue of
the state or any political subdivision or agency thereof shall ever
be taken from the public treasury directly or indirectly in aid of any
church, sect or religious denomination or in aid of any sectarian institution.
Only about 720 students used the Opportunity Scholarships in Florida during the 2004-05 school year. But far greater numbers
of students could see other state-sponsored school choice programs at
risk if the state supreme court strikes down the voucher program.
For example, the states McKay Scholarships, which allowed 14,300
students with disabilities to attend private secular and religious schools
in the most recent school year, likely would face an immediate legal
challenge if the court rules the Opportunity Scholarships unconstitutional.
The states Bright Futures college scholarships also could be at
legal risk. Neither are included in Bush v. Holmes specifically. ("Court
Showdown Over Fla. Vouchers Nears," May 25, 2005.)
In the one-hour oral arguments in Tallahassee, two Florida Supreme Court
justices suggested that they see no difference between the states
general budget for K-12 schools and the relatively modest amount of
money the state spends on Opportunity Scholarships.
This is money thats coming, dollar for dollar, out of the
money that would be for the uniform system of public schools,
said Justice Charles L. Wells, questioning why the court should allow
the state to divert public money to private schools.
But lawyer Barry Richard, representing Gov. Bush and defending the states
voucher program, argued that money for the Opportunity Scholarships
doesnt directly strip funding from general school aid in Florida.
The plaintiffs are not suggesting that the money in the Opportunity
Scholarships comes from the state school fund, he said.
Mr. Richard added that to single out religious, private schools
use of Opportunity Scholarships would fly in the face of the U.S. Supreme
Courts 2004 decision in Locke v. Davey that allows state tuition
aid to religious colleges except for students studying to become clergy.
He added that if the court rules the voucher program unconstitutional,
other forms of public aid to religious colleges, hospitals, and other
institutions will be at risk. We dont believe you can sever
it without running afoul of the U.S. Constitution, he said.
Justice Kenneth B. Bell wanted to know why the reasoning behind the
2002 U.S. Supreme Court decision allowing state-funded vouchers in Cleveland in Zelman v. Simmons-Harris, and Locke would not apply
in the Florida case.
Plaintiffs' lawyer John M. West responded that the Florida Constitution
and its so-called Blaine amendment contains a far more specific restriction
on the use of public funds than does the federal establishment clause.
Florida is one of 37 states whose state constitutions include
language first advocated by 19th century Maine politician James G. Blaine that prohibits the use of
public money in religious institutions. The amendments were seen as
a way to keep public money from going to non-Protestant institutions.
("Voucher Advocates Plan a Multistate Legal Battle," Oct. 16, 2002.)
Justice Raoul G. Cantero III asked whether the possible religious bigotry
touted by supporters of the Blaine
language more than a century ago should be considered in the Florida voucher ruling. He noted that the state could not measure
how much religion is taught in private schools that qualify for public
aid. How do you distinguish one situation from another?
he asked Mr. West.
Mr. West said that distinctions can be made, but asked that the court
consider whether Floridas constitution allows any sort of public aid for
private schools, religious or secular. He added that the courts
decision should not apply to state aid for higher education.
A decision could come later this summer, in time for the new school
year in Florida. TOP OF PAGE
So much for school choice advocates banner year in state legislatures.
Even with Utahs adoption of vouchers for students with disabilities,
and with enactment of school choice measures still plausible in Arizona and Ohio, 2005 hasnt brought the strong showing that school
choice supporters predicted it would.
Lawmakers in Florida, Indiana,
Missouri, South Carolina, and other states shot down prominent bills that would have created or
expanded major programs facilitating private school choice.
It was a year of steady but incremental gains, and its still
not over, said Clint Bolick, the president of the Phoenix-based
Alliance for School Choice, a national advocacy group that works
in many states to support such legislation.
Other school choice supporters saw an even brighter lining in the clouds.
This has been somewhat of an unprecedented year, said Robert
Fanger, the communications director for the Indianapolis-based Milton
& Rose D. Friedman Foundation, which also works to advance vouchers
and other options. Weve seen more school choice legislation
introduced and discussed more seriously than we have at any point in
But opponents of publicly financed tuition vouchers and other forms
of state-supported options for private education said this years
legislative defeats mean the school choice movement is losing ground.
My perspective on the 2005 legislative sessions is that many of
the pro-school-choice, pro-voucher legislators did not have a huge record
of success, said Kay A. Coles, the state-legislative-policy specialist
for the National Education Association. It really is a repudiation
of the concept of vouchers.
The efforts of political-advocacy groups supporting school choice, including
financial contributions to legislators and on-the-ground support, did
not result in many victories for their cause.
Setback in South
Nowhere was that more evident than in South Carolina, where Gov. Mark
Sanford, a first-term Republican, saw his ambitious choice proposals
fail in a legislature controlled by his own party.
Legislation there would have allowed $4,000 in reduced state income
taxes for each child that families enrolled in private schools or transferred
to other public schools. The plan also would have allowed unlimited
money to be raised for corporate-tax-credit scholarships. In such programs,
corporations get tax credits for donations to nonprofit organizations
that provide scholarships to students to attend private schools.
This was a specific abandonment of our public schools, said
Paul Krohne, the executive director of the South Carolina School Boards
Association, which fought the bills. And that just didnt
ring well with our legislature.
Supporters say theyll be back next year.
You can bet on it, said Will Folks, Gov. Sanfords
press secretary. Until legislative leaders warm to the idea, parents
are going to continue to be faced with the dilemma of having kids stuck
in failing schools, he said.
In Indiana, legislation narrowly failed in committee that would
have created vouchers for about 25,000 students at schools labeled as
needing improvement, mainly in larger school districts. The legislation
also would have allowed tax credits for private school tuition, starting
at $1,000 per student and expanding yearly to $3,000.
Some business leaders will continue to fight for the legislation, said
David Holt, the Indiana Chamber of Commerces vice president of
workforce-development policy. Serious debate about the plan is most
likely to come in two years, he said, because the 2006 session is expected
to be a short session dealing with the second year of the states
The business leaders around the state of Indiana believe that competition is very, very important to
ensuring successful kids, he said.
Officials with an Indiana teachers union also will not give up when it comes
to fighting such measures, said Judith A. Briganti, the president of
the Indiana State Teachers Association, the states NEA affiliate.
She said the school choice debate detracts from more serious needs in
the state, such as higher school funding and all-day kindergarten.
We will continue to try to stand up for what our schools need,
rather than for diverting it to other entities, Ms. Briganti said.
In Texas, a plan to provide vouchers for students in urban districts
failed in a series of narrow votes in the House on May 27. It was the
first time since 1997 a voucher bill had reached a floor vote in the
Missouri lawmakers did not take a floor vote on a proposed $40 million
House plan to create scholarships worth between $3,800 and $4,000 for
low-income students and for students with 1.9 grade-point averages or
lower, who have been removed from public schools for discipline reasons,
or whose parents have been incarcerated, said Donayle Whitmore-Smith,
the president of the St. Louis-based Missouri Coalition for School Choice.
The bill had bipartisan support and was backed by freshman Republican
Gov. Matt Blunt, but the years legislative session was dominated
by school finance.
In Florida, another Republican, Gov. Jeb Bush, saw his push to
expand the states current voucher programs fizzle in the GOP-controlled
He wanted $5,000 vouchers for up to 170,000 students scoring at the
lowest level on state reading tests for three years in a row.
In Ohio, lawmakers passed competing plans to expand vouchers
in Cleveland and offer vouchers to thousands more students across
the state. A legislative conference committee was set to begin work
this week to merge the competing plans, said Tom Mooney, the president
of the Ohio Federation of Teachers, an American Federation of Teachers
affiliate that is fighting Ohio vouchers.
Ohio senators passed a bill on June 2 that would provide
private school vouchers worth $4,200 for grades K-8 and $5,000 in grades
9-12 to about 10,000 students in some 70 low-rated public schools, he
said. The Senate also passed a plan to raise the amounts of Clevelands existing vouchers to $3,450 for all students
in the program. Cleveland voucher students now receive $3,000 in grades K-8 and
$2,700 in high school.
House members had previously passed a plan to provide about 18,000 students
with vouchers worth $4,000 in grades K-5, $4,500 in grades 6-8, and
$5,000 in high school. The plan would offer vouchers to all students
in some 30 low-rated school districts, Mr. Mooney said. The House also
passed a plan to expand Clevelands vouchers into 11th and 12th grades, but would
not change the voucher amounts.
Elsewhere, the GOP-controlled Arizona legislature approved a plan to create $3,500 scholarships
using corporate donations to nonprofit groups in exchange for state
tax breaks. Arizona already has tax-credit scholarships raised through contributions
from individuals. The lawmakers also raised the states current
tuition tax credits from $625 to $1,000 for married couples who send
children to private schools.
Gov. Janet Napolitano, a Democrat, vetoed the corporate-tax-credit scholarships,
but the plan could survive. The governor may call a special session
in the coming weeks, and could negotiate a deal that would allow lawmakers
to pass the scholarships again without the veto threat.
In a clear victory for voucher proponents, Utah Gov. John Huntsman Jr.,
a Republican, on March 10 signed into law legislation to provide $1.4
million in scholarships for students with disabilities whose parents
wish to transfer them to private schools or other public schools. TOP OF PAGE
New York - Just upstairs from an exhibit on African culture at the American
Museum of Natural History, Robert V. Steiner sits in front of his laptop
computer and clicks on an interactive animation that illustrates
the concept of frames of reference.
On the screen, a glowing basketball bounces up and down against a black
background. After watching the direction the ball is moving, the user
is asked to determine whether the basketball player is standing still
or walking east or west. The same questions are asked about the viewer.
The task, part of the museums virtual Seminars on Science for
teachers, is meant to help educators better understand Albert Einsteins
special theory of relativity. The graduate-level online courses, covering
subjects from ocean systems to spiders, feature essays and videos of
scientists affiliated with the museum.
These are the most exciting scientific resources around,
said Mr. Steiner, a physicist and a project director of Seminars on
Science. Were connecting working scientists with working
The courses are also helping Bank Street College of Education here meet
one principle of Teachers for a New Era, a five-year, $60.5 million
initiative of the Carnegie Corporation of New York. The Ford Foundation and the Annenberg Foundation are
also providing support.
Involving Bank Street and 10 other institutions across the country,
the project has challenged those involved with making over their teacher-training
programs in three ways: by becoming engaged with the arts and sciences,
by treating teaching as a clinical-practice profession, and, perhaps
most important for policymakers, by producing evidence of the effects
their graduates have on student performance.
I think a lot of people might have felt that teacher education
reform was a hopeless target, said Daniel Fallon, the chairman
of the education division at Carnegie. I think it has already
changed, in some powerful ways.
Calling Teachers for a New Era a make-or-break project,
Arthur E. Levine, the president of Teachers College, ColumbiaUniversity, here in New York, says the endeavor has the potential to prove that teacher
education makes a difference in student achievement.
Theres been a huge void, he said. For the most
part, all weve been able to give are anecdotes.
Jon D. Snyder, the dean of the graduate school of education at Bank Street, says he thought integrating the arts and sciences into
the colleges coursework would be the most difficult aspect because
Bank Street doesnt have a college of arts and sciences.
In fact, he still seems a bit amazed that Bank Street, which prepares early-childhood and elementary teachers,
is even involved in the initiative. Everything is based on a university
model, he said. Were not a university.
But because Maritza Macdonald, who used to teach curriculum design at
Bank Street, now directs professional-development programs at the
natural-history museum, a partnership was formed.
My goal here was to open the museum for teacher education because
its an unbelievable resource, she said.
Another arrangement has been forged between Bank Street and SarahLawrenceCollege in Bronxville, N.Y. Professors there are helping to evaluate Bank Streets coursework and infuse it with more math and science.
A telling example occurred when a Bank Street professor and a physicist from Sarah Lawrence, Kanwal
Singh, observed an elementary school classroom. When they walked out,
the Bank Street faculty member said how engaged she thought the children
were in the lesson. Ms. Singhs response: Engaged in what?
At another Teachers for a New Era siteCalifornia State University-NorthridgeStella
Theodoulou, the dean of social and behavioral sciences, showed her commitment
to building future teachers content knowledge by opening seven
tenure-track positions to academics who have excelled in their fields
but also have backgrounds in K-12 teaching.
One such faculty member is Stephen Graves, a geography professor and
former middle school teacher. While he said hes always had prospective
teachers in his classes, he typically tried to cover as much subject
content as possible because of the standards-based environment in which
But because of Teachers for a New Era, Mr. Graves said he has focused
on how to teach the material so his students can be better prepared
when they have their own classrooms. I want them to use the tools
of social science so they can begin to figure these things out for themselves.
Mr. Graves enthusiasm for preparing teachers isnt yet felt
by all his colleagues. Theres some generational resistance,
he noted, adding that some professors might think its beneath
them to train teachers.
Harry Hellenbrand, the provost of CSU-Northridge, added that many faculty
members feel responsible only for advancing their disciplines by producing
future scholars and researchers.
What were asking people to do is to think of furthering
teaching, and not to think of that as a lesser goal, said Mr.
Hellenbrand, who plans to hire someone to continue the work of Teachers
for a New Era when the grant ends.
In fact, of the $5 million each college put up to match the grant, 20
percent must go into a permanent endowment.
Giving prospective teachers more time in the fieldand deciding
just how much they needis also something the institutions are
learning through the process.
Teacher education is essentially going through what the medical profession
experienced more than a century ago, said Philip Handler, the vice provost
at Northridge and the universitys project director for Teachers
for a New Era.
Doctors did not used to do residencies, he pointed out.
Future doctors did not see sick people.
Here at Bank
the graduate students, many of them already working in schools throughout
the city, have a convenient laboratory in which to practice their skills
and learn from excellent teachers. During the day, most floors of the
building are occupied by the 450 pre-K-8 students who attend the colleges
School for Children.
At , the classrooms for children become classrooms for adults,
said Reuel Jordan, the dean of the childrens programs.
All the schools teachers also help supervise student-teachers
from the college. But leaders here know that studying in a $23,000-a-year
private school doesnt expose teachers to the wide range of instructional
settings and student needs found in public schools. Thats why
the School for Children is only one site used to place student-teachers.
CSU-Northridge is working with an elementary, middle, and high school
in the Los AngelesUnifiedSchool
to give its prospective teachers clinical experiencemore than
a short-term student-teaching assignment typical in traditional teacher-preparation
programs. And a cohort of 14 education students is spending an entire
year learning on the job at SepulvedaMiddle School, located near Northridge in the San Fernando Valley.
We got to see how discipline starts the first couple of days,
how classroom management is implemented, said Pax Figioli, a CSU
student working at the middle school. I think what theyve
done is try to make our college experience more like the real world.
But Mr. Handler says it will probably take four or five years to give
all the students the kind of exposure they need.
The colleges are also being challenged to improve teacher-induction
programs, something that Bank
hasnt had before. The college has long taken pride in the tight
relationships that form between faculty advisers and students. But Bank Street has never had money for a formal program of ongoing
Most of what new teachers need is an opportunity to talk about
their feelings, said Barbara Stern, the Bank Street professor in charge of induction. The program will include
study groups held at the college, online discussions, and what Bank Street educators are calling an alumni partner
program that will link recent graduates with more experienced ones.
Establishing a plan for tracking graduates once they become employedand
then deciding how to measure their performance in the classroomhas
probably required the most effort from the 11 sites. And no two colleges
are doing it the same way.
At Northridgeone of Californias largest teacher-training
institutionsa majority of the 2,000 aspiring teachers who graduate
each year take positions in the Los Angeles district. So the college
is working with the district to gather and analyze standardized-test
But a very different situation exists at Bank Street, whose graduates are scattered throughout New York, New Jersey, Connecticut, and beyond. A progressive institution founded in the early 1900s and
influenced by John Dewey, Bank Street has a different philosophy toward assessment, one that
seems almost at odds with what the Carnegie Corporation is requesting.
faculty members are focused on working with students on an individual
level, Dean Snyder said, there is some skepticism about what conclusions
can be drawn about the teacher-candidates as a group.
So in addition to using standardized-test data on the precollegiate
students a Bank Street graduate teaches, the college is collecting assessments
related to a teachers curriculum and examining the level of complexity
in student work.
Before gathering student-achievement data linked to specific teachers,
several of the Teachers for a New Era colleges have also been conducting
extensive and detailed research on teaching. Team members at Bank Street, for example, were trained to observe both recent graduates
and more experienced teachers to identify the essential aspects of good
teaching. And some faculty members are using that research to help advise
For our folks, its been eye-opening, said Nancy McKeever,
a faculty member at Bank
Street. In education, theres been a real attention
to pedagogy. But when you attend to one thing, you say, Oops,
wheres the content?
Lessons learned from Teachers for a New Era, which the Santa Monica,
Calif.-based RAND Corp. is evaluating, will also be disseminated over
time in the hope that other teacher-preparation programs will be able
If it turns out that by introducing a two-year period of induction,
we can demonstrate that the attrition is reduced by 50 percent, and
that these are teachers who can show gains in student achievement, then
the [savings are] pretty big, Carnegies Mr. Fallon said.
Thats an argument that you can sell to a state legislature.
TOP OF PAGE
Three months after the debut of the SAT writing test, some colleges
are expressing concerns about its validity, and many have decided not
to require the scores, at least for the time being.
So far, over 400 of the nations colleges and universities have
said they will require an admissions exam that requires a writing test
such as the one in the SAT, according to the College Board, which sponsors
the test. They include Ivy League colleges like Columbia and Yale universities, and elite public institutions
such as the University of California system.
Among the institutions that will not consider SAT writing scores, at
least not for the next admissions cycle, are the Massachusetts Institute
of Technology and GeorgetownUniversity.
Some schools, meanwhile, such as the liberal artsCollege of the Holy Cross in Worcester, Mass., St. Lawrence University in Canton,
N.Y., and LawrenceUniversity in Appleton, Wis., have in recent months chosen to drop their requirements
for one of the college-admissions tests altogether.
They join more than 700 others that already do not require applicants
to submit SAT or ACT scores, according to the NationalCenter for Fair & Open Testing, or FairTest, a Cambridge,
Mass.-based group that has long criticized standardized testing.
MIT will not consider writing scores for the fall 2006 admissions class
and will take them into account the following year only after a campus
panel of experts reviews the test and ensures its validity, said Les
Perelman, the universitys director of undergraduate writing.
The revised SAT, which was administered for the first time in March,
includes a 25-minute essay and 49 multiple-choice questions that require
students to improve sentences and identify errors
Mr. Perelman, who studied more than 50 sample SAT essays, said he believes
the new section does not allow time for students to plan and revise
their essays and is therefore not a realistic test of their writing
Editing and revision are very important for writers, he
said. We know that the difference between professional writers
and novice writers, the single most important characteristic that differentiates
them, is the extent of the substantial revision they make on essays.
Mr. Perelman added that he was also concerned that the College Board,
the New York City-based organization that sponsors the SAT, advises
scorers to overlook factual errors in essays.
Their justification for that is that this is a test on writing
and not a test on information, he said. I personally think
you cant separate the two.
Caren Scoropanos, a spokeswoman for the College Board, said that scorers
were instructed to read all essays holistically and were
indeed asked to disregard minor factual errors in an otherwise excellent
essay. But glaring errors that affect the conclusion in an essay would
have an impact on the overall score, she said.
A report last month from the National Council of Teachers of English
said the SAT writing test, which is mandatory for those taking the exam,
and the ACTs optional writing test are unlikely to improve the
teaching of writing in schools and could make it harder for students
in poorer school districts to get into college.
Administrators at Holy Cross said that although they have long discussed
making the submission of SAT scores optional, the panic
among parents and students over the writing test was the final straw.
Ann McDermott, the admissions director, said the college had often admitted
students with low scores on the basis of other criteria, but the introduction
of the writing test provided the spur for a re-examination.
We felt like there was so much hysteria and distraction that this
was a good time to drop the entrance test as a requirement, she
Robert Schaeffer, the public education director of FairTest, said that
the introduction of the writing test has caused a number of colleges
to review their admissions policies. It was a tipping point,
he said, adding that his group expected announcements soon from other
colleges that would make the test optional.
While FairTest says that 700 or more out of some 2,500 four-year institutions
have made standardized admissions testing, including the SAT and the
ACT, optional, Ms. Scoropanos of the College Board said officials there
believe that the number is much smaller. According to the College Board,
1,424 four-year colleges require all applicants to submit standardized-test
The College Board has also put out a list of just over 400 colleges
that have decided to take the writing test into consideration in the
next admissions cycle, including the University of
California system and RiceUniversity in Houston.
Ms. Scoropanos said that number is based just on colleges that have
informed the College Board, and that the total number of institutions
requiring the writing test could be much larger.
She said that while there is a need to critically evaluate
any admissions tool, colleges have generally shown strong acceptance
of the SAT writing test.
She added that colleges were planning to use the test for a range of
purposes, from authenticating student writing abilities to determining
scholarships and the need for remedial classes.
Ann Wright, the vice president of undergraduate admissions at Rice,
said that the university would compare students SAT essays with
their admissions essays.
We want to know how a student performs in a proctored environment,
she said. That is quite a different process than writing it six
times at home and having someone else look over it. We think we will
find that very useful.
Ms. Wright, who was a member of the College Board when the organization
added the writing test, said the criticism of the writing test was premature.
I think that we need to look at the test and the results before
making a judgment, she said. My own feeling is if students
learn to write a short essay, then thats a good thing rather than
Testing the Test
The University of California system will also take scores on the SAT writing test into account for
its fall 2006 admissions class, said Michael T. Brown, the president
of the institutions Board of Admissions and Relations with Schools.
However, whether the writing test provides any real measure of student
ability remains a big question, he said. The university will take at
least another year to determine whether the writing test is aligned
with its needs, but the fact that other institutions are opting out
of its use is telling, he added.
The University of California set off the revamp of the SAT when its
then-president, Richard Atkinson, in 2001 proposed dropping the test
as an admissions requirement because, he said, it did not emphasize
what was taught in the high school curriculum. He also recommended that
SAT-takers be asked to produce a writing sample.
While a writing test is desirable, Mr. Brown said, it remains to be
seen whether the writing portions of the college-admissions exams are
sending the appropriate signal in terms of the kind of writing
we are interested in. TOP OF PAGE
Not many high school yearbook pranks get the attention of the U.S. Secret
But when someone on the yearbook staff at MesaRidgeHigh
in Colorado Springs, Colo., put Most Likely to Assassinate President Bush
under the photo of a classmate, the federal law-enforcement agency visited
the campus to investigate.
Newspaper accounts say the investigation was quickly closed, though
the Secret Service has no official comment, said Tom Mazur, an agency
But the 8,500-student Widefield school district, which includes Mesa
Ridge High, has instituted its own procedures to make sure nothing like
the assassination reference happens again in a yearbook.
Were going to have three sets of adult eyes reading
each page, said James Drew, a spokesman for the district. All but about
30 of 600 yearbooks were recalled last month, and the offending phrase
was blacked out with ink, he said.
Previously, we basically had a yearbook editor who was responsible
for putting together all the pages, he said. Its hard
to put all of this on one person.
The Colorado incident is one of a spate of pranks or off-color photos
that have appeared in yearbooks this spring, a problem that has left
administrators and yearbook advisers trying to tighten their oversight
to prevent such mistakes.
BeachHigh School in the 165,000-student Palm Beach County, Fla., district, the 2005 yearbook has a photo of a black
teenager posing with a leash around his neck with his then-girlfriend,
who is white. The caption was Most Whipped, a colloquial
reference to suggest the girlfriend had the young man under her control.
In newspaper accounts, the black student, Robert Richards, 19, said
he didnt see anything wrong with the photo. But his mother, Jacqueline
Nobles, asked the district days after some of the yearbooks had been
distributed to recall them. The district did so and covered the photo
with a sticker.
On the Gulf Coast of Florida, at BonitaSpringsMiddle
in the 69,000-student LeeCounty district, administrators distributed the yearbook in
late May, then ended up having to cut out pages that depicted two students
flashing gang signs and a joke about a students weight.
And at Waxahachie High School in the 6,000-student Texas district of
that name, the photo of the National Honor Society identified the chapters
only black member as black girl, while the names of all
the white members were printed. The district reprinted the pages and
offered an apology to the student.
Candace Ahlfinger, a spokeswoman for the Waxahachie district, said the
black girl moniker appears to have been an innocent mistake,
but that the district is still investigating. In an apology, signed
by the superintendent, the school board president, and the high schools
principal, the identification was called a poor choice to use
as a placeholder for a students name that was not known at the
time, but it was not done maliciously nor was it meant to be printed.
Guarding Against Pranks
The districts involved in the incidents have promised to put extra layers
of proofreading in place.
Ms. Ahlfinger said the Waxahachie district is taking an extra step and
plans to have security officers scan yearbook pictures for gang signs
These things change as fast as you learn them, she said.
Such oversight would subject yearbooks to scrutiny by people who may
have no knowledge of good journalism and an agenda to make the school
look good, said Mark Goodman, the executive director of the Arlington,
Va.-based StudentPressLawCenter. Its more important to teach students the tenets
of journalism and acknowledge there will be occasional mistakes, he
Theres no reason the yearbook staff cant do this job
if theyre given the tools to do so, Mr. Goodman said.
Linda S. Puntney, the executive director of the Journalism Education
Association, a Manhattan, Kan., group for publication advisers and journalism teachers,
said pranks have been an ongoing issue for yearbooks. She said that
schools need to make an effort to have properly trained yearbook advisers
in place, instead of a teacher who is just taking on the yearbook in
addition to many other duties.
Its the responsibility of the administration to make sure
they have a person who is trained or to get training for them,
Ms. Puntney said.
Rich Stoebe, a spokesman for yearbook publisher Jostens Inc., based
in Bloomington, Minn., said that as the publisher, the company doesnt
edit content. It does, however, provides free summer workshops where
students can learn about creating a book and what goes into a
In addition, the company introduced a proofing system last year that
allows teachers and students to access yearbook pages online. That allows
for easy editing, Mr. Stoebe said.
We have a pretty well-documented process, with multiple proofing
stages, he said.
Students are some of the best guards against pranks, said Casey Nichols,
who was named by the JEA as the 2005 national yearbook adviser of the
year. He teaches at RocklinHigh
in the 9,500-student Rocklin district outside Sacramento, Calif.
Mr. Nichols said his student staff members literally take an oath
at the beginning of the year, pledging to take their jobs seriously
and root out potentially hurtful jokes and pranks.
We really talk about this, he said. We never, ever
want to print something that could hurt someone else.
Mr. Nichols said he thinks that students may not see the permanence
of their actions in yearbooks because they are so used to disposable
communications, like e-mail. So much of their communication
is immediate, he said. They dont see the long-term
Even seemingly harmless jokes can get out of control. A member of the
Rocklin High yearbook staff this year made a veiled reference to a teacher
in the space reserved for staff comments. The comment was mentioned
on a students personal Web site and eventually grew to be something
hurtful, Mr. Nichols said.
The students involved wont work on the yearbook again, he said.
They learned a pretty harsh lesson. TOP OF PAGE
Valdosta, Ga. - When India Kitts brought home a 77 on a math test last year, her
grandparents found her performance unacceptable. After tutoring didnt
help improve her scores, Indias grandmother took the matter into her own hands.
She began conducting classes with India, now 10, after school. India served as the instructor, equipped with a child-size
chalkboard, and her grandmother, Carolyn Kitts, the student. Kitts would
feign ignorance, repeatedly asking her granddaughter to explain the
material, until she was sure India had mastered it.
The effort paid off this spring, when Indias average in mathematics reached 97 percent, and
she received ClyattvilleElementary
award for most improved math student.
Overwhelming evidence shows that family involvementboth in school
and at homehas a positive impact on student achievement. But researchers
have found that parental involvement tends to drop off during the very
transition India Kitts is about to make: the move from elementary to
middle school. That transition also corresponds with the biggest drop
in achievement, says Anne T. Henderson, an independent consultant affiliated
with the Institute for Education and Social Policy at New YorkUniversity and the co-author of a 2002 synthesis of research on
Fortunately for India, she will enter the 6th grade here in the fall at LowndesMiddle
which won a national award last year for its school-family-community
partnership program. At the 1,030-student school, parents are provided
with a wealth of opportunities to be engaged in their childrens
schooling, from home phone calls about upcoming events to workshops
about effectively helping with homework.
Trying to convince [parents] that they still need to be involved,
once [their children] get to middle school, can be a huge task,
says Samuel Clemons, the principal at the middle school, part of Georgias 9,300-student LowndesCounty school district.
Research consistently shows that students with involved families, regardless
of their age, socioeconomic status, and racial or ethnic identity, are
more likely to earn higher grades and test scores, to have better attendance
and fewer behavioral problems, and to go on to postsecondary education,
among other benefits.
According to Kathleen V. Hoover-Dempsey, an associate professor and
the chairwoman of the department of psychology and human development
at Vanderbilt Universitys Peabody College, parents motivations
for involvement are influenced by three variables: their sense of invitation
from the school, teachers, and their own children; their perceptions
of how effective their involvement will be; and their personal beliefs
about how they should be involved.
During the transition from elementary to middle school, those motivating
factors tend to be disrupted, studies show. Many students enter larger
schools, which often intimidate parents by their sheer size. Parents,
also feeling wary of the more challenging curriculum, dont think
they can do much to help their children with their studies. They often
dont understand the course-selection process, or which courses
their children need to take to go to college.
And, to make the situation even harder, children begin to push away
their parents as they grow older. Parents discover that the types of
involvement their children enjoyed in the earlier gradessuch as
having a family member volunteer in the classroomare no longer
welcome. Adolescents start to assert their independence, making close
supervision of their time and schoolwork harder and less necessary developmentally.
Although family involvement remains important throughout secondary school,
researchers argue, the forms that involvement take must evolve as the
developmental needs of the child change.
The parents role changes from being an administrator or
manager, to being a coach, says Sophia Catsambis, an associate
professor of sociology at QueensCollege, City University of New York.
Home discussions about school, expressing high aspirations for their
children, helping plan for college or work, and outside educational
activities are some of the most effective ways parents can stay involved
after elementary school, research shows.
Marjorie Ard, the mother of 14-year-old Josh Ard, a student at LowndesMiddle
calls herself a very hands-on parent. In addition to volunteering
at the school on a weekly basis, she helps her son with writing and
math homework, and researches history and genealogy with him at home.
He has become quite a history buff, she says of her son.
She cultivates his natural curiosity in the subject through visits to
museums and Civil War sites. Hes even begun asking to visit specific
sites while the family is on road trips.
Its important to get him to see whats out thereto
see what piques his interest, Ard says.
multipronged approach to involving families in students education
shows the variety of ways that secondary schools can encourage such
Persuading parents to remain engagedand showing what their role
could beshould begin when students are still 5th graders and in
the summer before 6th grade begins, experts say.
Lowndes holds two orientation sessions for new students and their familiesone
during the school day in the late spring, and another on a summer evening.
The sessions, which introduce students and parents to changes in curriculum
and expectations at the middle school level, the forms of school-home
communication that the school provides, and opportunities for parents
to become involved in parent-teacher organizations, attract one-third
of the entering classs parents, according to Clemons.
The school also provides a reception with food and drink to make
parents feel special, the principal adds.
Welcoming parents, and making them feel valued, is vital to an effective
Schools dont have a clue about how unfriendly their schools
look to someone from the outside, Henderson says. Even small gestures, such as posting directions
to principals or guidance offices, can make a difference to parents
who feel overwhelmed by the new, larger schools.
Teachers and schools need to be specific about how and why parents are
needed, advises Ms. Hoover-Dempsey. Giving parents concrete instructions
about how to help with student assignments and alerting them to when
specific school events will take place are key.
At Lowndes, theres no excuse for not knowing whats
going on at school, says Kim Williams, a mother of two former
The school runs an Internet service called Parent Connect, operated
by Pearson Educational Technologies of Upper Saddle River, N.J., that
offers parents free, password-protected access not only to their childrens
attendance records, schedules, grades, and assignments, but also to
school calendars and student health records. The site facilitates e-mail
exchanges between parents and teachers, and parents can receive automatic
updates on unexplained absences, missing homework, or poor grades.
Twice a month, Clemons sends out telephone messages to all parents,
outlining upcoming activities at the school. Each teacher is assigned
a voice mailbox within the service for posting daily messages about
homework and other assignments.
But school administrators know that not all parents in LowndesCounty, a southern Georgia community of some 95,000 residents, have access to the
Internet or in some cases, even to telephone service. Each student at
is given an agenda book at the beginning of the year, in which he or
she is required to record daily school tasks. Teachers will often ask
students to have their parents sign the books, so that the parents will
stay abreast of homework, test schedules, and school activities.
The agenda book is an important communication tool between school
and home, Melanie Mares, a 6th grade reading, English, and social
studies teacher, told an assembly of 5th graders and parents at an orientation
session held at the middle school last month.
In addition to making sure that parents know what is going on at school,
Lowndes offers them a room of their own.
This school year, it opened a large, inviting Parent Resource Room.
Half the space is decorated with plush sofas, cushioned chairs, and
a full dining room set. The other half contains computers that parents
can use to access Parent Connect and other educational resources, a
large, flat-screen TV, and other electronic equipment. Most of the items
were donated by local businesses or community partners.
The room can be used for meetings, parent-teacher conferences, volunteer
activities, and workshops. It also houses resources for families about
parenting and academics.
Having a space for families in the school makes a huge statement,
says Mavis G. Sanders, an associate professor of education at JohnsHopkinsUniversity in Baltimore and a senior adviser to the Johns Hopkins-based National
Network of Partnership Schools. The network, composed of schools, districts,
and states working to establish school-family-community partnerships,
chose Lowndes as one of three schools in the nation to receive Partnership
School Awards in 2004 for their effective, permanent partnership programs.
At a chamber of commerce meeting held in the room last month, for example,
E. Steve Smith, the Lowndes County superintendent of schools, lauded
the business partnerships that made the room possible and hailed it
as a space for families without the intimidating feeling you usually
get in schools or principals offices.
The Parent Resource Room was home this year to the monthly, daytime
program Wonderful Wednesdays, which served as a support
group for parents who met to share their experiences raising adolescents,
discuss the many challenges they face, and receive literature from the
schools guidance department.
Other afternoon and evening workshops covered topics including creating
conducive study environments at home, helping students with homework,
and preparing students for Georgias standardized assessments.
Experts recommend that schools offer programs at various times during
the day, especially in the evening, to create opportunities for parents
and other family members who work to attend. Providing a meal is an
added incentive for those who come straight from work or dont
have much money.
Family Nights, held at the school every year, can draw as many as 400
parents. Last fall, a Family Night introduced parents to a free mental-health
screening that was offered by the school. Parents of students who showed
signs of depression or other mental illness were referred to counseling
agencies that had agreed to partner with the school.
At the annual Math-a-Thon Family Night, families are invited to take
part in interactive math activities at stations set up throughout the
Studies of high-performing schools show that parent and community involvement
is one of several factorsincluding high standards, effective school
leadership, and focused teacher professional developmentthat affect
An effective school-family-community partnership program should be part
of a schools overall improvement plan, says Sanders of the National
Network of Partnership Schools. The network recommends forming an action
team for partnerships as a committee of the school improvement
The action team, made up of teachers, parents, and students, should
write a one-year plan each school year linked to specific improvement
goals, says Joyce L. Epstein, the director of the network.
the 24-member action team focuses on bolstering math and reading comprehension,
and strengthening family and community connections.
Over the five years since the teams inception, reading, math,
and writing scores on Georgias state tests have improved, and the schools
relationships with local businesses and organizations have blossomed.
The team routinely reaches out to companies for donations, advertising,
and volunteers for its events, and to local agencies for services such
as mental-health counseling for students.
Researchers say it takes at least three years to develop a permanent
family- and community-partnership program. Schools should start small,
says Sanders, and let such programs grow over time.
Starting with an event that already attracts a large crowdan annual
open house, for exampleis a good way to begin advertising other
events and forging relationships with families.
Clemons, the middle school principal, credits his action team for the
success of the partnership program at Lowndes. He says he acts as the
teams coach, making sure that the team has adequate resources,
and that it has continuity as teachers and parents come and go. Dividing
the responsibility prevents administrators, who may already feel overwhelmed
by their many other tasks, from having to develop the program alone.
Quoting Jim Collins, the author of Good to Great, a book about effective
business strategies, Clemons says: Its all about having
the right people on the right bus, in the right seats, going in the
right direction. TOP OF PAGE
Why the Public
Is Losing Faith in the No Child Law Commentary by Wendy D. Puriefoy,president of the Public Education Network, a national organization
of local education funds and individuals working to improve public schools
and build the publics support for public education, Education
In the nearly four years since Congress enacted the No Child Left Behind
Act, states have been under considerable pressure to comply with certain
requirements, such as implementing standards-based tests in reading
and math, disaggregating student-achievement data, and giving parents
the option to transfer kids out of failing schools.
But another of the laws goalsincreasing parent and community
involvement in the public schoolshas received far less scrutiny,
even though it was mentioned over a hundred times in the legislation.
Explicitly, the No Child Left Behind Act promised to give citizens more
opportunities to see what goes on in local schools, to become well informed
about how schools work, and to become more involved in education policy
debates, decisionmaking, and accountability in general.
But policymakers have turned their backs on the promise of increased
public and parental involvement in the schools. Having listened to the
concerns of thousands of citizens across the country, we at the Public
Education Network can reach no other conclusion. Rather than bringing
people closer to their schools, the No Child Left Behind law is causing
many Americans to feel increasingly distrustful of and marginalized
by professional educators.
By and large, the public has been assigned a perfunctory role in school
improvement. Districts send out report cards that people cannot understand,
agendas for reform parents had no hand in developing, and invitations
to meetings at which they are expected to play no active part. Parents
see the names of their childrens schools on watch lists, but they
dont know what those lists mean. They hear politicians talk about
school choice, but they dont see any real choices in their own
neighborhoods. They know they need to speak up in order to get the services
their kids deserve, but they dont know how to voice their concerns
or who will listen to them.
Its hard enough keeping track of all the education policy changes
that occur at the state and local levelsin any given year, school
districts are liable to change course requirements, rewrite discipline
codes, reclassify special-needs students, adopt new homework policies,
and so on. But when the No Child law gets thrown into the
mix, parents become completely baffled. What happens, they ask, if my
kids dont pass the No Child Left Behind tests, or if their school
doesnt make adequate yearly progress? What are supplemental
services, and how can I get them? What do I do if my kids
teachers arent highly qualified?
Moreover, when people do manage to educate themselves about the law,
and when they do try to become involved in their schools, they tend
to be rebuffed by school leaders and stymied by the lack of useful information
about school performance, leaving them at a loss either to contribute
to policymaking or to make wise decisions in the interests of their
These lessons were brought home vividly at a series of public hearings
sponsored by PEN, local education funds, and other community organizations
in nine states. Meeting in historic sites, statehouses, and city halls,
hundreds of ordinary Americans took time out of their busy lives to
express their concerns, hopes, and ideas about school improvement. An
additional 12,000 registered their opinions by way of an online poll.
From these citizens, we heard many touching stories about the struggle
to ensure that children get a decent education. We heard stories about
communities working to help their schools improve in spite of fiscal
pressures and other challenges. And we also heard strong support for
the goals of the No Child Left Behind legislation. As one Los Angeles
parent put it: I dont want No Child Left Behind to stay
a wonderful idea. I want it to really become as it should be, and have
it really serve to improve our childrens education and better
our community as a whole.
We also heard a consistent, powerful call to improve the law and its
implementation. For instance, participants overwhelmingly endorsed the
idea that schools should be rewarded not only for reaching ambitious
goals, but also for making incremental gains along the way to those
targets. They argued that Congress should allow students to receive
supplemental educational services before they receive invitations to
transfer out of their neighborhood schools. And in large numbers, participants
expressed doubt about the use of testing as a tool to improve school
qualityhundreds of people argued that tests give only a partial
picture of academic performance, and that the pressure to raise scores
is having a negative impact on teaching and learning.
Equally important, the public evidently has not been convincedin
spite of what people hear from policymakersthat there has been
significant progress in ensuring that all teachers are highly qualified.
States and districts may say they are in compliance with federal guidelines,
but parents know what they see in their childrens classrooms.
They may be confused by the mumbo jumbo of AYP, by ever-shifting
regulations, and by unfiltered data, but they know whether or not theyve
got teachers who make a difference in their childrens learning.
In sum, the hearings revealed some widespread concerns about the course
the No Child Left Behind Acts implementation has taken so far,
and they produced some useful suggestions on how the law might be put
back on track. Overwhelmingly, participants recommended that federal
policymakers do the following:
Enforce the laws information requirements. Under the No
Child Left Behind Act, states and districts have produced a wealth of
information on school performance, teacher quality, and other variables,
but few states have made that information readily available to the public.
If federal officials are vigilant in getting states to comply with other
aspects of the law, they should be just as vigilant in getting them
to report data in a timely fashion and in clear and comprehensible ways,
even translating results into Spanish and other languages as necessary.
Enforce parent-involvement provisions. In most districts, parents
meet resistance from school officials when they attempt to participate
in decisionmaking. By enforcing provisions already in the law, though,
the federal government can send a strong signal of support for parents
and other citizens who choose to become active partners in school improvement.
If local administrators prefer to hold closed meetings, change policies
without public input, or otherwise keep the public at arms length,
then it is the responsibility of federal and state policymakers to remind
them of the laws intent.
Count significant progress toward AYP. Many Americans believe
that high-stakes testing is leading teachers to squeeze valuable topics
out of the curriculum, while creating far more pressure than is needed
to motivate students to improve their academic performance. Theres
no reason to insist on an all-or-nothing system of incentives, people
tell us. It would make better sense to give schools some adequate-yearly-progress
credit for making significant progress toward goals, rather than threatening
to punish them if they fall just an inch short of some arbitrarily defined
Provide supplemental services before allowing choice. Parents
of children in low-performing schools tend to favor the option of receiving
supplemental education services first, before they are given the option
of sending their children elsewhere. Public support for neighborhood
schools is quite strong in all parts of the country, and people tell
us that federal policy should be adjusted to help those schools develop
better tutoring services and to give them more time to improve before
choice provisions go into effect.
Hold states accountable. Currently, states set performance targets
and define their own No Child Left Behind implementation plans. But
they face no consequences when they fall short of their objectives.
According to many of the Americans we spoke to, states do not deserve
such a free ride. Just like individual teachers, administrators, schools,
or districts, states should have some sort of penalties imposed on them
when insufficient numbers of children meet AYP targets, teacher-quality
guidelines are not met, and so on. Perhaps states should be designated
as in need of improvement, for example, and given a time
period in which to take corrective action or face the loss of federal
Of course, it is not fair to hold states accountable without bolstering
their capacity. To make the necessary shift from their monitoring role
to providing schools and districts with technical assistance in everything
from research to effective pedagogy and improving teacher quality, state
departments of education need additional resources and support from
their legislatures and the federal government.
Americans remain as willing as ever to devote themselves to the cause
of school improvement. On matters of education, the public is not merely
opinionated but extraordinarily generous as well, with citizens giving
freely of their time and attention when asked to support local school
initiatives, attend meetings, coach athletic teams, organize fund-raising
events, and on and on.
But the point isnt to praise citizens for their willingness to
help the schools, as though parents, pta members, after-school volunteers,
and community activists were mere auxiliaries to the school system.
The point is that the public is an integral part of the infrastructure
of public educationand under the No Child Left Behind law should
play a more central role than ever, as citizens are called upon to monitor
academic performance, choose among schools and programs, and hold officials
accountable for results.
The old educational infrastructure cannot hold up under the No Child
Left Behind Acts new expectationsno more than old telephone
lines can manage cellphone traffic. Increasingly, public education will
depend on networks of engaged citizens, powered by clear and consistent
information. States and school districts must do a better job of reaching
out to those people and keeping them in the conversation, just as the
law requires. TOP OF PAGE
Illinois State Board of Education
100 North First Street
Springfield, IL 62777