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News Clips

News Clips – June 3 – 10, 2005


School funding reform squeezed out / Quad Cities Online
85 schools get reward of freedom / Chicago Tribune
Early school start times questioned / Chicago Sun-Times
Schools give mediation a try / Chicago Tribune
When GPA means WAR / Chicago Tribune
Mental health tests for kids spark debate / Chicago Tribune
Mascot book names names / Chicago Tribune
Graduation hopes realized / Chicago Tribune
Schools failed to stop taunts about race, lawsuit says / Chicago Tribune
Give Legislature an 'F' in education funding reform / Pantagraph

Tamaroa Grade School to Combine Second and Third Grade / DuQuoin Evening Call
Intervene early to boost literacy so more kids will graduate / Northwest Indiana Times
Topinka backs cuts in budget, overhaul of school funding / Chicago Tribune
Students explore origins of hate throughout history / Chicago Tribune
State looks closely at tutoring / Chicago Tribune
State seeks to beef up monitoring of private tutors / Chicago Sun-Times
Student athletes to get steriod ed / Daily Herald

In Virginia, Reopening the Gap /
Washington Post
Columbine district nixes filming of flick about teen bullying / Chicago Sun-Times
Maine mom serves daughter's detention / Chicago Sun-Times
High schoolers' money knowledge poor / Southeast Missourian
Missouri school funding case will proceed / St. Louis Post-Dispatch
Along with ABCs, some learn Chinese / Boston Globe
6th grader finds calculator glitch, prompting recall, praise / Chicago Tribune
Official: School Food May Be Terror Target /
Richmond Times-Dispatch (VA)
Title IX suit rejected / Salt Lake Tribune
Abstinence courses faulty, report says / Washington Times
Activists mobilize to counter classroom bias / Christian Science Monitor
Vallas makes Philly kids study black history / Chicago Sun-Times
Cultural Tie Gets in the Way of Graduation /
Washington Post

States Report Reading First Yielding Gains
Florida Voucher System Argued Before State Supreme Court
School Choice Loses Legislative Momentum
Teacher Education Homing In on Content
Colleges Hesitate to Embrace SAT Writing Test
School Yearbooks Plagued by Errors, Pranks
Keeping in Touch
Why the Public Is Losing Faith in the ‘No Child’ Law



School funding reform squeezed out
Stephanie Sievers, Quad-Cities Online
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
Ottawa Township High School District.
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 Valley.
The other big hurdle? Convincing lawmakers to jump aboard a tax increase when they knew full well that Gov. Rod Blagojevich would almost certainly veto it.
"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 consideration."
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 Halvorson, D-Crete.
"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. Mautino said.


85 schools get reward of freedom
City's top performers cleared to teach and spend as they see fit
Tracy Dell'Angela, Chicago Tribune
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 money.
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 their work."
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 improve performance.
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
Spry Community School, 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 your school."
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 resources."
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 created.
"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 me."
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
West Town 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
Northwestern University.
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 paint dry."


Early school start times questioned
Jim Ritter,
Chicago Sun-Times
Evanston Township High School 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 times.
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
8:10 a.m., 10 a.m. or 1 p.m. 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
Northwestern University researchers.
Hormonal influences

Evanston Township senior Kalin Meyer, who graduated Sunday, said he typically stayed up until midnight or later studying. Meyer, who was not involved in the study, said he needed two alarm clocks to wake up at 6:30 a.m. so he wouldn't be late for his first-period Spanish class.
"I don't get focused and going until
9:30 or 10 a.m.," 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
8 a.m.," 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
8 a.m. or earlier. Researchers suggested schools consider later start times.
Minneapolis high schools did that in 1997, when they pushed back start times from 7:15 a.m. to 8:40 a.m. 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,
Evanston Township 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.


Schools give mediation a try
Race imbalance cited in conference split
Lanier Frush Holt,
Chicago Tribune
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."


When GPA means WAR
Chicago Tribune Editorial, 6/4/05
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 Deerfield High Schools will do away with class rankings altogether next year. Stevenson and New Trier High Schools 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.
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
Walter Payton High School 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 intervention.

"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 children."

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
Columbia University--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
Rush University Medical Center. "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 fall.

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 profit motive.

"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 problem."

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 peers.

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."


Mascot book names names
Chicago Tribune, 6/5/05

Fred Willman loves geography, sports and storytelling.

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 into something.

"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 they are.

But as wacky as the Cornjerkers (Hoopeston Area) or Bunnies (Fisher) are, the tales behind the mascots are sometimes crazier than the mascots themselves.

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 officials association.

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 or, the Illinois High School Association's Web site.

"Our role is to try to build a legacy of school spirit," Yelton said.

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 their names.

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 Bronzeville Military Academy, uses yellow as a school color, though gold is quite popular.

Speaking of gold, he believes that
Marquette University's recent short-lived selection of Gold as a mascot was a disaster.

"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.'"


What's in a name?

Some great
Illinois high school mascots:

- Arcola Purple Riders

Centralia Orphans

- Cobden Appleknockers

- DeKalb Barbs

- Effingham Flaming Hearts

- Fisher Bunnies

Freeport and New Berlin Pretzels

- Hoopeston Area Cornjerkers

Lake Forest Academy Caxys

- Polo Marcos

- Resurrection Bandits

South Shore Tars

- Teutopolis Wooden Shoes


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
York Community High School 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 preschool.
"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 Grange 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.


Schools failed to stop taunts about race, lawsuit says
Carolyn Starks,
Chicago Tribune
Alleging that school officials failed to address persistent racial remarks against her two daughters, an African-American woman has sued
Harvard School District 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
Shari and her sister, Evanya Perry, 14.
She said Evanya, who attends
Harvard High School, 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
McHenry County'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 Harvard case.
Cousins-Brandon said a handful of students have made remarks to her daughters. "They called them the `n-word,' monkey, cockroaches," she said.
At first, she said, she told her daughters to ignore the comments. But problems arose.
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 said.
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.
"I just want it to stop," she said.


Give Legislature an 'F' in education funding reform
Pantagraph Editorial, 6/7/05
Their accomplishments in 12 years are sometimes nothing short of miraculous.
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 their responsibilities.
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.


Tamaroa Grade School to Combine Second and Third Grade
Craig Shrum, Du Quoin Evening Call
Tamaroa Grade School will combine second and third grade classes next year to address financial issues that have sent one of Southern Illinois' healthiest school districts into deficit spending.
Tamaroa Grade School 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 Pinckneyville High School, 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 amount."
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.
Trico High School 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.
Elverado School District, 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
Perry County--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.


Intervene early to boost literacy so more kids will graduate
Northwest Indiana Times Opinion, 6/8/05

The issue: Graduation rate
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 job market.
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 diploma.
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 good job."
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 earning potential.
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
Grimmer Middle School 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 their classes.
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 life.
Your opinion, please
What should educators, parents and others do to reduce the high school dropout rate?


Topinka backs cuts in budget, overhaul of school funding
Rick Pearson,
Chicago Tribune
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 said.
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 funding.
"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," she said.
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 in order."
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.


Students explore origins of hate throughout history
High school program asks painful questions to go beyond facts, find roots of violence
Jon Anderson,
Chicago Tribune
Sitting in a top-floor history classroom at
Clemente High School 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 Nazi Holocaust.
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
"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 history.
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."
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 Weimar Republic 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.


State looks closely at tutoring
More attention paid to help providers who don't get results
By Diane Rado, Chicago Tribune staff reporter,

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 weren't met.

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 provider list.

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 state.

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 statement:

"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."


State seeks to beef up monitoring of private tutors
BY KATE N. GROSSMAN, Sun-Times Education Reporter, 6/10/05

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 pass.

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 superintendent.

Firms that fall short after one year, Furr noted, must create a plan for improvement.

"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 improvement.

"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 as profit.

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."


Student athletes to get steriod ed
By John Patterson, Daily Herald State Government Editor,

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.




Virginia, Reopening the Gap / Washington Post
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.
Take Fairfax County, 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.


Columbine district nixes filming of flick about teen bullying
Chicago Sun-Times
LAKEWOOD, Colo. -- Officials in the school district including Columbine High School have squelched the idea of filming a movie at another county school because it deals partly with bullying.
Jefferson County school officials said they were concerned that filming ''The Sensei'' at Alameda High School 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.

Maine mom serves daughter's detention
Chicago Sun-Times
Maine -- Standing in for her daughter, Danielle Pelletier spent one hour in detention at Winslow High School. 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," she said.
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.


High schoolers' money knowledge poor
Callie Clark Miller, Southeast Missourian
Missouri education department wants personal finance class to become mandatory.
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
Scott City High School.
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 Legislature concerned.
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," Morris said.
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.
Jackson and Scott City 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.
Central High School 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 education.
"Research has been clear for several years that there's a need for that kind of information," said Cowan.
Jackson High School 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.

Missouri school funding case will proceed
Kelly Wiese, Associated Press (
St. Louis Post-Dispatch)
JEFFERSON 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 tax bases.
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.


Along with ABCs, some learn Chinese
Tracy Jan, Boston Globe
BROOKLINE -- All first-graders at the Driscoll School 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 York City 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 people worldwide.
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
Michael Driscoll School, 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.
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
Driscoll School'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."
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."


6th grader finds calculator glitch, prompting recall, praise
Associated Press,
Chicago Tribune
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 Chesterfield County, 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
Chesterfield County. The county had more than 11,000 of the calculators recalled.
Texas Instruments is replacing them. The company had no immediate comment Tuesday.
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 said.


Official: School Food May Be Terror Target
By MATT SEDENSKY, Associated Press Writer, 6/6/05

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 lunches.

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 to tampering.

Federal officials have distributed a food safety checklist to school lunch providers, who must show evidence of a food safety plan, Maczka said.

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.


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 landmark law.

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 population.

''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.


Abstinence courses faulty, report says
By Cheryl Wetzstein,
Washington Times, 6/7/05

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 health division.

Abstinence-until-marriage programs also fail to provide information needed by youths who are sexually active and homosexual youths, Dr. Frank said.

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 sex-education programs.

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.


Activists mobilize to counter classroom bias
By G. Jeffrey MacDonald, The Christian Science Monitor, 6/5/05

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 level."

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:

• 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 throat."

• 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,, 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 Lansing High School 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 "[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."
Hudson High 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.' "


Vallas makes Philly kids study black history

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 history.

''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
Baldi Middle 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
Philadelphia High School 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.


Cultural Tie Gets in the Way of Graduation
Md. Boy Wearing Bolo Is Denied a Diploma
By Ann E. Marimow,
Washington Post Staff Writer, 6/10/05

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
Charles County 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
Charles County's McDonough High School 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
Maurice J. McDonough High School for embarrassing their son and failing to respect the Cherokee background of his father's ancestors.

"The schools in
Charles County 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 acceptable."

"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 George's County, for example, graduating seniors are told "they are not to wear any kind of additional accents," said schools spokesman John White.

"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 and ties.

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 religious reasons.

"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
Charles County's McDonough High School 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.




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 government’s 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 reports.

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 program’s 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 center’s 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 impact—districts are changing their reading programs—but we don’t know yet if that’s for the better or for the worse.”

‘Noteworthy Progress’

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 changes.

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 First—adherence to a prescribed instructional program and additional training in using those materials—to 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 Florida’s reading initiative, which has opened up Reading First training sessions to all K-3 teachers and administrators in the state. Just because their school doesn’t participate, she said, “we don’t 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 materials—provided through a contract with Sopris West, a Longmont, Colo.-based company that sells assessments and training services—also went up unexpectedly.

Overall, however,
Michigan’s report says that schools in the program are making “noteworthy progress.”

“By and large, it’s going really well,” said Faith Stevens, who oversees Michigan Reading First. “I wouldn’t say it’s been completely smooth sailing, but the program has grown, … and the grantees feel really proud of what they’ve been able to accomplish.”

Kicked Out, Dropped Out
It was not smooth sailing for several
Michigan schools. Six schools—three in Detroit, two in Muskegon, and one in Saginaw—were 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 reviewer—from the Western Regional Reading First Technical Assistance Center at the University of Oregon—recommended 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 reviewer’s] 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 years.

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
Moreno Elementary School 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 programs—Houghton Mifflin and Open Court—be used in Reading First schools, according to Patricia Webb, a consultant with the state’s professional-development and curriculum-support division.

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.

“We’re looking forward to getting the next set of data from the [current] school year,” the Education Department’s Ms. Jacobs said. “It’s going to tell the tale.”


What the States Are Saying About Federal Initiative
Statewide Impact

“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.” — Texas

“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

Implementation Issues

“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

Success Stories

“The student population at
Calcedeaver Elementary School 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 support.” —Illinois

U.S. Department of Education, State Performance Reports, Fall 2004


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
Florida’s 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 funded vouchers.

Two lower courts have ruled the Opportunity Scholarships violate the Florida Constitution’s 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 state’s 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 state’s 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.)

Legal Precedent

In the one-hour oral arguments in Tallahassee, two Florida Supreme Court justices suggested that they see no difference between the state’s general budget for K-12 schools and the relatively modest amount of money the state spends on Opportunity Scholarships.

“This is money that’s 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 state’s voucher program, argued that money for the Opportunity Scholarships doesn’t directly strip funding from general school aid in

“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 Court’s 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 don’t 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
Florida’s constitution allows any sort of public aid for private schools, religious or secular. He added that the court’s 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


School Choice Loses Legislative Momentum
With some exceptions, most voucher bills fail following flurry of action.
By Alan Richard, Education Week, 6/8/05

So much for school choice advocates’ banner year in state legislatures.

Even with
Utah’s adoption of vouchers for students with disabilities, and with enactment of school choice measures still plausible in Arizona and Ohio, 2005 hasn’t 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 it’s 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. “We’ve seen more school choice legislation introduced and discussed more seriously than we have at any point in time.”

But opponents of publicly financed tuition vouchers and other forms of state-supported options for private education said this year’s 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 Carolina

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 didn’t ring well with our legislature.”

Supporters say they’ll be back next year.

“You can bet on it,” said Will Folks, Gov. Sanford’s 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.

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 Commerce’s 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 state’s two-year budget.

“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 state’s 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.

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 Texas legislature.

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 year’s legislative session was dominated by school finance.

Florida, another Republican, Gov. Jeb Bush, saw his push to expand the state’s current voucher programs fizzle in the GOP-controlled legislature.

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.

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 Waits

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 Cleveland’s 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
Cleveland’s 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 state’s 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.


Teacher Education Homing In on Content
National Project Also Tied To Student Achievement
By Linda Jacobson, Education Week, 6/8/05

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 museum’s virtual Seminars on Science for teachers, is meant to help educators better understand Albert Einstein’s 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. “We’re connecting working scientists with working teachers.”

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,
Columbia University, here in New York, says the endeavor has the potential to prove that teacher education makes a difference in student achievement.

“There’s been a huge void,” he said. “For the most part, all we’ve been able to give are anecdotes.”

‘Furthering Teaching’

Jon D. Snyder, the dean of the graduate school of education at
Bank Street, says he thought integrating the arts and sciences into the college’s coursework would be the most difficult aspect because Bank Street doesn’t 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. “We’re 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 it’s an unbelievable resource,” she said.

Another arrangement has been forged between
Bank Street and Sarah Lawrence College in Bronxville, N.Y. Professors there are helping to evaluate Bank Street’s 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. Singh’s response: “Engaged in what?”

At another Teachers for a New Era site—California State University-Northridge—Stella 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 he’s 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 teachers work.

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 isn’t yet felt by all his colleagues. “There’s some generational resistance,” he noted, adding that some professors might think it’s “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 we’re 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.

Education ‘Residencies’

Giving prospective teachers more time in the field—and deciding just how much they need—is 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 university’s 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 Street, 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 college’s School for Children.

4:30, the classrooms for children become classrooms for adults,” said Reuel Jordan, the dean of the children’s programs.

All the school’s teachers also help supervise student-teachers from the college. But leaders here know that studying in a $23,000-a-year private school doesn’t expose teachers to the wide range of instructional settings and student needs found in public schools. That’s 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 Angeles Unified School District to give its prospective teachers clinical experience—more 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 Sepulveda Middle 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 they’ve 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 Street hasn’t 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 support.

“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.

Measuring Performance

Establishing a plan for tracking graduates once they become employed—and then deciding how to measure their performance in the classroom—has probably required the most effort from the 11 sites. And no two colleges are doing it the same way.

At Northridge—one of California’s largest teacher-training institutions—a 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 data.

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.

Bank Street 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 teacher’s 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 their students.

“For our folks, it’s been eye-opening,” said Nancy McKeever, a faculty member at
Bank Street. “In education, there’s been a real attention to pedagogy. But when you attend to one thing, you say, ‘Oops, where’s 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 to benefit.

“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,” Carnegie’s Mr. Fallon said. “That’s an argument that you can sell to a state legislature.”


Colleges Hesitate to Embrace SAT Writing Test
By Vaishali Honawar, Education Week, 6/8/05

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 nation’s 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
Georgetown University.

Some schools, meanwhile, such as the
liberal arts College of the Holy Cross in Worcester, Mass., St. Lawrence University in Canton, N.Y., and Lawrence University 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
National Center 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 university’s director of undergraduate writing.

Essay ‘Hysteria’?

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 ability.

“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 can’t 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 ACT’s 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 said.

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.

‘Strong Acceptance’

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 scores.

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 Rice University 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 that’s a good thing rather than a negative.”

Testing the Test

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 institution’s 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.”


School Yearbooks Plagued by Errors, Pranks
Rash of Incidents Leads to Tightened Oversight of Student Publications
By Christina A. Samuels, Education Week, 6/8/05

Not many high school yearbook pranks get the attention of the U.S. Secret Service.

But when someone on the yearbook staff at
Mesa Ridge High School 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 spokesman.

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.

“We’re 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. “It’s hard to put all of this on one person.”

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.

Boynton Beach High 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 didn’t 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
Bonita Springs Middle School in the 69,000-student Lee County 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 student’s 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 chapter’s 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 school’s principal, the identification was called “a poor choice to use as a placeholder for a student’s 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 or symbols.

“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
Student Press Law Center. It’s more important to teach students the tenets of journalism and acknowledge there will be occasional mistakes, he said.

“There’s no reason the yearbook staff can’t do this job if they’re 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.

“It’s 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 doesn’t edit content. It does, however, provides free summer workshops where students can learn about “creating a book and what goes into a good yearbook.”

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
Rocklin High School 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 don’t see the long-term implications.”

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 student’s personal Web site and eventually grew to be something hurtful, Mr. Nichols said.

The students involved won’t work on the yearbook again, he said. They “learned a pretty harsh lesson.”


Keeping in Touch
By Jessica L. Tonn, Education Week, 6/8/05

Valdosta, Ga. - When India Kitts brought home a 77 on a math test last year, her grandparents found her performance unacceptable. After tutoring didn’t help improve her scores, India’s 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
India’s average in mathematics reached 97 percent, and she received Clyattville Elementary School’s award for most improved math student.

Overwhelming evidence shows that family involvement—both in school and at home—has 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 York University and the co-author of a 2002 synthesis of research on the topic.

Fortunately for
India, she will enter the 6th grade here in the fall at Lowndes Middle School, 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 children’s 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
Georgia’s 9,300-student Lowndes County 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 University’s 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, don’t think they can do much to help their children with their studies. They often don’t 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 grades—such as having a family member volunteer in the classroom—are 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 parent’s role changes from being an administrator or manager, to being a coach,” says Sophia Catsambis, an associate professor of sociology at
Queens College, 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
Lowndes Middle School, 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. He’s even begun asking to visit specific sites while the family is on road trips.

“It’s important to get him to see what’s out there—to see what piques his interest,” Ard says.


Lowndes Middle School’s multipronged approach to involving families in students’ education shows the variety of ways that secondary schools can encourage such bonds.

Persuading parents to remain engaged—and showing what their role could be—should 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 families–one 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 class’s 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 family-involvement program.

“Schools don’t 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, “there’s no excuse for not knowing what’s going on at school,” says Kim Williams, a mother of two former students.

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 children’s 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
Lowndes County, 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 Lowndes Middle School 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
Johns Hopkins University 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 school’s guidance department.

Other afternoon and evening workshops covered topics including creating conducive study environments at home, helping students with homework, and preparing students for
Georgia’s 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 don’t 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 school.


Studies of high-performing schools show that parent and community involvement is one of several factors—including high standards, effective school leadership, and focused teacher professional development—that affect achievement.

An effective school-family-community partnership program should be part of a school’s 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 team.

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.

Lowndes Middle School, the 24-member action team focuses on bolstering math and reading comprehension, and strengthening family and community connections.

Over the five years since the team’s inception, reading, math, and writing scores on
Georgia’s state tests have improved, and the school’s 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 crowd—an annual open house, for example—is 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 team’s 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: “It’s all about having the right people on the right bus, in the right seats, going in the right direction.”


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 public’s support for public education, Education Week, 6/8/05

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 law’s goals—increasing parent and community involvement in the public schools—has 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 children’s schools on watch lists, but they don’t know what those lists mean. They hear politicians talk about school choice, but they don’t 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 don’t know how to voice their concerns or who will listen to them.

It’s hard enough keeping track of all the education policy changes that occur at the state and local levels—in 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 don’t pass the No Child Left Behind tests, or if their school doesn’t make adequate yearly progress? What are “supplemental services,” and how can I get them? What do I do if my kids’ teachers aren’t 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 children.

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 don’t 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 children’s 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 quality—hundreds 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 convinced—in spite of what people hear from policymakers—that 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 children’s 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 they’ve got teachers who make a difference in their children’s learning.

In sum, the hearings revealed some widespread concerns about the course the No Child Left Behind Act’s 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 law’s 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 arm’s length, then it is the responsibility of federal and state policymakers to remind them of the law’s 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. There’s 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 target.

• 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 funds.

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 isn’t 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 education—and 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 Act’s new expectations—no 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.


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