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State of Illinois - Governor Blagojevich 

News Clips

News Clips – June 10 - 17, 2005

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STATE  
Preschool programs receive promised funding / Southern Illinoisan
Schools say funding increase falls short / Telegraph
State aid drops off for some schools / Daily Southtown
Minority students face harsher discipline / Daily Herald
Report: Minority students expelled more often than whites / Belleville News-Democrat

Reading test may get easier to pass / Chicago Tribune
Students who pass tests-- drug tests--may get prizes / Chicago Tribune
Local students' probing led to new trial / Chicago Sun-Times
Dist. 300 targets false ethics complaints / Daily Herald

Glenbard offers parents payment installment plan / Chicago Tribune
Make tutors prove they work / Chicago Tribune
Schools can use program to cut costs / State Journal-Register
Limited-English schoolkids get a break on testing /
Chicago Sun-Times
Investigators slap SD 168 official with subpoena / Daily Southtown
City adds its muscle to tough truancy issue / Rockford Register Star

NATIONAL
Reading, Writing and Recruiting /
Washington Post
As School Bus Sexual Assaults Rise, Danger Often Overlooked /
Washington Post
Education department offers tutoring guidance / CNN.com
Bill targets abusive educators / Detroit News
Acrimony, doubts remain in Ohio on school science standards / Kansas City Star
Charter schools failing on reform goals, ASU study concludes /
Arizona Republic
Digital divide narrows / Kansas City Star
Students’ BB gun science project banned / MSNBC
Edison in Chester: How plan failed / Philadelphia Inquirer
Va., Md. Get Slack On 'No Child' Rules /
Washington Post
Military recruiters draw fire at schools / Boston Globe
Kansas legal battles threaten to keep schools closed / CNN.com
Deadline extended for teacher aides / CNN.com

FROM “EDUCATION WEEK”
Education Dept. Issues Guidance on Tutoring
Districts Add Web Courses for Summer
Head Start Has ‘Modest’ Impact, Study Says
House Panel Turns Down Bush’s High School Agenda
Keeping Overage Students in H.S. Proves Tough
Justices Query Lawyers in Fla. Court Showdown over Voucher Program
N.C. Program Holds Promise for Gifted Classes
Dover, Pa., Board Race Takes Intelligent Design to Voters
Majority of Pa. Districts Snub Rendell Tax-Relief Plan
Kansas Court Orders More Aid to Schools

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STATE

Preschool programs receive promised funding
Caleb Hale,
Southern Illinoisan, 6/13/05
 
SOUTHERN ILLINOIS - Education officials throughout Illinois were not the only people happy to see the governor complete a three-year, $90 million promise to preschools this past week by appropriating the last $30 million installment for programs in the 2006 fiscal year budget. A group of law enforcement officials, state's attorneys and crime survivors promoting socially constructive programs for children also shared the victory.
 
Fight Crime: Invest in Kids Illinois is the state branch of a nationwide organization dedicated to putting existing criminals behind bars but nipping potential future criminals in the bud during childhood with comprehensive educational and social community programs.
The group has hundreds of members in the state, including several in
Southern Illinois including Union, Alexander, Saline and Franklin counties.
 
Union County State's Attorney Allen James is a member of the group and spoke on behalf of it earlier this year before a legislative committee in Springfield, regarding funding of the some of the preschool programs the group supports.
 
James said he learned the value of pre-kindergarten program because his wife, a school teacher, started in a preschool.
 
“The sooner we can get children started in education and learning, the lower the chances are they will do any kind of criminal activity when they get older," he said.
 
It's not a guarantee, James added, but he often finds the young people getting in trouble are the same youths having trouble in school work. It is a piece of the puzzle toward stopping criminal behavior before it begins, he said.
 
"You're not going to save them all, and the schools only have them so many hours a week; it all comes down to home life," James said.
 
Home life isn't what it used to be for children, with both parents often having to work to bring in a steady household income. Even infant children are left in the care of others most of the time, while parents work during the day.
 
Angie Messer, administrator of the Southern Seven Head Start, which covers the seven southernmost counties in the state, said if children aren't getting enough constructive activity before they turn 5 years old, they've missed out on some important opportunities.
 
"A lot of the learning that goes on, the things they are going to learn, happens by age 5, as far as social skills," Messer said. "Preschool teaches them how to interact among their peers."
 
Messer said preschool students are also learning more advanced studies these days.
 
"Many of the things we might have learned in kindergarten, they are now learning in preschool," she said.
 
That is not to see parents who choose not to put their child in a preschool environment have doomed them to falling behind, Messer said.
 
Studious parents help children benefit just as much at home as they would in preschool.
 
"If you have parents who are very involved in their children's education they are going to develop the same as others," Messer said.
 
Preschool, she said, offers a safe environment where parents who work know their child will be in a constructive environment.
 
However, Messer added school facilities generally offer services only between the hours of
8 a.m. and 3 p.m. Keeping children constructively occupied after school can be just as challenging and lead to as many problems in potential criminal activity.
 
The after-school programs also received some state funding this year, though it is less compared to the preschool plan, said FCIK spokeswoman Lena Parsons.
 
She said the State Board of Education appears to have added a new budget line item for "After School Programs, Mentoring and Student Support" in the amount of $12.2 million.

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Schools say funding increase falls short
John Krupa and
Darrin Burnett, The Telegraph,  6/12/05
 
Area school superintendents really don’t want to sound ungrateful about the $330 million in additional education funding built into the new state budget.

They say every little bit helps, and they are glad it wasn’t a decrease.

"I understand people will say, ‘You are getting all this extra money,’ but it still won’t be enough," said John Pearson, superintendent of the East Alton-Wood River High School District, which will get $299,751 in new money from the state this year -- an increase of 19.2 percent. "We are still in deficit spending, and this will just allow us to borrow less."

While
Madison County school districts get $3.2 million in additional state money under Gov. Rod Blagojevich’s new budget, according to estimates released by the Illinois State Board of Education, superintendents say the new revenue is simply inadequate.

The new money -- $110 million of which is earmarked for Downstate Illinois -- does bump up the per-pupil spending level by $200 to $5,164, but it still falls $1,241 short of the recommended level of $6,405.

And
Madison County’s increase is only half of what it received last year, when it took in $6.3 million in new state money.

Cris Hagen, business manager for the Roxana School District, said the district’s $269,351 increase in state aid barely keeps pace with inflation.

"To put it into perspective, I have a $12 million education fund budget, so this is an approximate 2 percent increase in revenue,"
Hagen said. "This doesn’t allow us to do anything extra."

Because of varying student enrollments and property tax revenues -- the two key components in calculating general state aid -- there also are striking disparities in the amount of new money each district took in.

Macoupin and Greene counties each saw a 2.5 percent increase in state aid, and
Madison County followed right behind with a 2.4 percent increase.

But
Calhoun County saw only a 1.2 percent increase in state aid, and Jersey County got a miniscule bump up of 0.8 percent.

Edwardsville and
Granite City -- the two largest school districts in the area -- saw zero in new cash.

Granite City Superintendent Ken Perkins said a decrease in enrollment of nearly 200 students is largely to blame, but he admitted that property tax revenues have fallen by close to $1 million as well, largely due to new property tax exemptions.

With salaries and benefits climbing by $1.2 million this fiscal year, Perkins said cuts through attrition would follow to make up the shortfall.

"It’s the same situation we are all facing. Funding is never adequate," he said. "But here’s the deal: Every time there’s a problem (with funding), they look at educators, and they say ‘fix it.’

"And we always have, and we always will."

However, budget backers say schools made out pretty well, considering the state’s precarious financial position.

Over the last three years, education funding in
Illinois has increased by $2.3 billion, Democrats say, making Illinois the top-rated state in the Midwest when it comes to increases in education funding.

"And when you compare Gov. Blagojevich’s investments in K-through-12 education versus his predecessors’, it’s pretty telling in terms of where his priorities are," said Becky Carroll, spokeswoman for the Governor’s Office of Management and Budget.

Blagojevich has increased school funding by 8 percent, Carroll said, as compared to the 2 percent increase under former Gov. George Ryan and a 5 percent increase under former Gov. Jim Edgar.

"And Gov. Blagojevich has presided over historic deficits in our state, while Gov. Ryan presided during the most prosperous economic times," Carroll said. "Schools are clearly better off today than they were three years ago."

Even state Rep. Jim Watson, R-Jacksonville, conceded that "you’ve got to give credit where credit is due.

"Despite my disagreements with how this budget is financed, you have to give (Blagojevich) credit for the commitment he has made to education," Watson said.

But those who trumpet this budget as an example of Blagojevich’s commitment to education are simply putting a "spin" on the issue, Pearson said.

"What we really need is to fix the structural problems in the system," he said.

Educators’ near-universal solution is reforming the way schools are funded by shifting from a property tax-dependent system to one predicated on income and sales taxes.

Hundreds of teachers rallied in
Springfield in May for the passage of Senate Bill 750 -- which would have put $2 billion in new money into education this year by rolling back property taxes, raising the income tax and expanding the scope of the sales tax.

However, much like its previous incarnations, the bill floundered under the weight of Blagojevich’s pledge to veto any bill that raises the income or sales taxes, although there’s a rumor that he might rethink his position if he wins re-election in 2006.


"You’ve got to reform the system if it’s going to run right. All we are doing is putting Band-Aids on it right now," Perkins said. "But one of these days, it’s going to be broken beyond repair."
  
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State aid drops off for some schools
Enrollment and tax changes cause changes in funding
Kati Phillips, Daily Southtown, 6/12/05
 
Education spending will grow by $313 million next year in
Illinois, but at least six Southland school districts will lose state aid.
 
The drop can be attributed to increases in local property values or decreases in enrollment, said Becky Watts, spokeswoman for the Illinois State Board of Education.
 
"It is a concept people do not grasp," said Mike Sass, superintendent of
New Lenox School District 122, which loses about $302,000 in general state aid despite skyrocketing enrollment.
 
"When local property taxes go up, we see it, but the state takes it out of another pocket," he said.
 
District leaders said the losses were expected and worked into 2005-06 school year budgets.
 
"It was in our financial plan, but we are disappointed because we are in a fast-growing district," said Keith Pain, superintendent of
Summit Hill School District 161, which loses $686,850 in general state aid at a time when it is building a new school.
 
The preliminary allocations were released last week based on the state budget and the latest district data collected by the state.
 
The General Assembly approved an almost 5.5 percent increase in education spending. It is enough to increase the "foundation level" of funding guaranteed for each student by $200 to $5,164, but still far short of the $6,400 experts recommend.
 
Most Southland districts will see a gain due to the foundation level, poverty grants and enrollment increases.
 
General state aid for Lincoln-Way High School District 210 will increase about $1.3 million, while Consolidated School District 230 will gain about $1.6 million.
 
"Our enrollment went up about 300 students — that's $700,000 right there," said Steve Langert, assistant superintendent for business services at District 230.
 
Southland school leaders were disappointed the General Assembly cut a fast-growth grant and did not increase the cigarette tax to pay for school construction, as suggested by Gov. Rod Blagojevich.
 
Sass estimated his district could have received $7 million in matching construction grants had the sin tax passed.
 
"In growing areas of the southwest suburbs, we need to make sure that's funded," he said.

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Minority students face harsher discipline
School discipline in the suburbs reflects a racial gap; experts disagree on the causes
Melissa Jenco, Daily Herald, 6/13/05
 
SPRINGFIELD — The 1999 expulsion of six black students in Decatur set off a surge of reports showing minorities in Illinois and elsewhere being expelled at much higher rates than white students.
 
That trend continues, according to the latest state records.
 
Black students in the suburbs were nine times more likely to be expelled than white students, and minorities as a whole were four times more likely to be expelled than whites, according to the latest figures from the Illinois State Board of Education.
 
Suspensions followed a similar pattern. Suburban black students were 4.7 times more likely to be suspended than white students, and minorities as a whole were twice as likely to be suspended.
 
No one seems to agree on exactly why this is occurring. Experts have researched differences in economic backgrounds and culture. Some politicians say it’s simply racial attitudes.
 
The one thing they agree on is statistics show there is a clear difference.
 
“It almost appears that there’s a window being opened and some people either wittingly or unwittingly are pushing African-American males out of schools and into prisons,” said state Rep. Monique Davis, a Chicago Democrat, who is black.
 
Racial disparities in discipline are not just a suburban trend. Statewide, during the 2002-03 school year, the expulsion and suspension rate for black students was three times higher than for white students. There were similar disparities for Latino students, too, according to a Daily Herald analysis of state records.
 
Expulsions in
Illinois public schools peaked at 2,779 in 1999, the year of the Decatur incident.
 
Decatur’s infamous expulsions occurred after a fight broke out among seven black students in the grandstands of a football game. Videotaped footage of the brawl saturated television news and district officials voted to expel six students. The seventh withdrew from classes. In Decatur, the expulsions provoked a wave of protests and marches led by the Rev. Jesse Jackson, but federal courts later upheld the expulsions. The expulsions were criticized as an overreaction to a brawl in which no weapons were used and no one was seriously injured.
 
The following year,
Illinois expulsions dropped to 2,058 — the lowest in recent years. But ever since, expulsions have crept up. In 2003, the most recent year for which data is available, there were 2,530 expulsions.
 
In some cases, school administrators’ hands are tied. Zero-tolerance policies require schools to expel students for infractions such as possession of weapons or drugs. Many of these policies grew out of high-profile school shooting cases across the country. The
Decatur expulsions prompted debate about whether they were applied fairly. Yet the policies remain and administrators say they must enforce them.
 
Given the situation, schools need to intervene in the lower grades to help students find alternatives to violent behavior before it leads to something as drastic as getting kicked out of school, said Kathleen Williams, superintendent of East Maine Elementary District 63 in
Des Plaines.
 
An
Indiana University professor examined thousands of middle school student disciplinary reports looking for clues. His 2000 report, “The Color of Discipline,” found neither economic background nor personality traits could explain why minorities are often disciplined more frequently and severely than whites.
 
“When we confront something like this there is a tendency to want to rationalize it or deny that in 2005 there could still be racial inequities in our society,” said Russ Skiba, a professor of counseling and educational psychology. He studied the disciplinary records of 11,000 urban Midwestern middle school students.
 
His study found white students are disciplined more for infractions such as vandalism, smoking or leaving class without permission, while black students are disciplined more for subjective behavior such as disrespect, loitering and threats.
 
A new study by the University of Missouri-Columbia found large, high-poverty schools are more likely to expel and suspend students. Researcher Motoko Akiba, who studied 2,270 schools nationwide, also found fewer than 5 percent of severe disciplinary actions were weapons-related.
 
Suburban school administrators contacted by the Daily Herald were reluctant to discuss racial disparities, saying race does not affect the decisions they make when disciplining students.
 
“We try to deal with every discipline situation on a case-by-case basis,” said Jim Muir, assistant superintendent of Schaumburg Township Elementary District 54.
 
Skiba urged school officials to talk about what’s going on and why the numbers are skewed, saying nothing will change until there are frank discussions.
 
Ken Arndt was the
Decatur superintendent who expelled the black students in 1999. Now superintendent of Community Unit District 300 in Kane County, Arndt says he did the right thing in Decatur and advises other administrators not to be intimidated.
 
“They have to do what they have to do,” Arndt said. “The easiest thing, which is the worst thing, is to ignore it and hope it’ll go away, and I would never recommend that because it would come back to haunt them”
 
During the 2002-03 school year, state statistics show, District 300 expelled 31 students, including 16 white students, seven black students and eight Hispanic students. The district has more than 18,000 students, 68 percent of whom are white, 4 percent are black and 24 percent are Hispanic.

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Report: Minority students expelled more often than whites
Associated Press, 6/14/05
 
SPRINGFIELD, Ill. - An analysis of state records found that minority students in Illinois were about twice as likely as white students to be expelled from public schools, prompting concern from one lawmaker about racial disparity in school discipline.
 
In the
Chicago suburbs, black students were nine times more likely than whites to be expelled and nearly five times more likely to be suspended, according to the analysis by the (Arlington Heights) Daily Herald.
 
Statewide, black students were three times more likely to be expelled or suspended and Hispanic students were 1.3 times more likely, the records show.
 
The newspaper reviewed Illinois State Board of Education records for the 2002-2003 school year, the most recent year for which data was available.
 
"It almost appears that there's a window being opened and some people either wittingly or unwittingly are pushing African-American males out of schools and into prisons," said state Rep. Monique Davis, a Chicago Democrat.
 
State Board of Education spokeswoman Becky Watts said Monday that while the board does not want to second guess decisions made by school administrators, the issue will be addressed.
 
"These statistics show a troubling gap in discipline outcomes for students, and as school leaders we need to continue to look at this,"
Watts said.
 
During the school year the newspaper analyzed, white students made up about 51 percent of the state's public school population and 39 percent of the expulsions, while black students accounted for 21 percent of the students but 46 percent of expulsions. Hispanic students were 17 percent of the school population and 14 of the expulsions, the newspaper reported.
 
Suburban school administrators said race does not affect the decisions they make when disciplining students.
 
"We try to deal with every discipline situation on a case-by-case basis," said Jim Muir, assistant superintendent of Schaumburg Township Elementary District 54.
 
Statewide, 2,530 students were expelled in 2003. The year before, 2,543 students were expelled.
 
Expulsions of minority students caught the public's attention in 1999 when the Rev. Jesse Jackson took up the cause of six black students who were expelled, and another who withdrew, from
Decatur School District following a bleacher-clearing fist fight at a high school football game.
 
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Reading test may get easier to pass
Scoring system called unfair to immigrants
Diane Rado and Tracy Dell'Angela,
Chicago Tribune, 6/14/05
 
Illinois officials are moving to lower passing scores on the high-stakes reading test given to immigrant children learning English.
 
The new scores, scheduled for a vote this week by the Illinois State Board of Education, would make it easier for thousands more students to pass the Illinois Measure of Annual Growth in English (IMAGE) in reading, state officials say. The test is one of the exams used to determine whether public schools pass or fail standards under No Child Left Behind federal reforms.
 
The new passing scores would coincide with an expected surge in the number of children who will take the IMAGE next year as
Illinois ramps up its state testing schedule and more immigrant children enroll in public schools.
 
An estimated 95,000 children are expected to take the IMAGE reading test, up from about 63,000 in 2003-04.
 
State and local educators say the proposed change isn't about lowering standards. Instead, the move addresses long-standing criticism and frustration about the use of the IMAGE test, said Becky McCabe, who oversees assessment at the state board.
 
IMAGE was designed to measure a child's progress in learning English rather than his mastery of a particular academic subject, she said. Passing scores were set high in 1998, in part to make sure children weren't moved too quickly out of special bilingual programs that help them become English proficient.
 
But with the advent of the 2002 No Child Left Behind reforms, IMAGE has been used to measure how well students have mastered reading and math as required by the state and federal government. If children don't meet standards, schools can be labeled as failing and face sanctions.
 
The problem is that a child who doesn't pass the test in English, might, in fact, show mastery of those skills if he took the exam in his native language.
 
McCabe said lowering passing scores is a first step toward addressing the criticisms, and the state may consider other changes, including a Spanish version of the regular reading test given to youngsters who already speak English.
 
Under the proposals, the passing score on the 3rd-grade IMAGE reading test would be set at 194, down from 205. The 5th-grade passing score would be 207, down from 230; the 8th-grade score would be 228, down from 250; and the 11th-grade score would be 249, down from 295.
 
A perfect score on the tests is 450. The passing score is based generally on the number of questions answered correctly, with questions weighted for difficulty.
 
Passing scores for the IMAGE math test would not change under the proposals.
 
If approved, the new passing scores also would apply to 2004-05 test results on the IMAGE reading test taken this spring.
 
Local educators had a mixed reaction to the proposal.
 
"This is a quick fix, but it doesn't fix the basic problem with this test," said Margo Gottlieb, a state expert on bilingual education assessments. "The state's done everything they can to make this more palatable. For the school officials who don't know the history of IMAGE, they'll probably be happy with the results. The others will remain disappointed."
 
Xavier Botana, director of No Child Left Behind programs for Chicago Public Schools, said the change in the passing criteria is likely to have a big impact in city schools with large numbers of immigrant children. About half of the limited-English students who take the IMAGE attend
Chicago schools.
 
"We're not lowering the standards," Botana said. "We're just taking the test and using it the way it was supposed to be used."
 
In West Chicago Elementary School District 33, Assistant Supt. Angel Rivera applauded the state's move, saying it would likely help some of the district's schools avoid a failing label under No Child Left Behind.
 
"The old [cut-off] scores weren't fair," Rivera said.

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Students who pass tests-- drug tests--may get prizes
Chicago Tribune, 6/12/05
 
PARK RIDGE -- If Ald. Frank Wsol's plan comes to fruition,
Park Ridge teens will someday get an offer they can--but might not--refuse: Pass a drug test, win a prize.
 
It's an idea that's catching on around the country. In exchange for coming up clean on a voluntary drug test, students get movie tickets, discount gas cards, even preference for local jobs.
 
"When you [offer] that, you put something in place that gives the teens two things," said Wsol, who was elected to the City Council in April.
 
"It does reward positive behavior, and when teens are in a peer pressure situation, they can turn to someone who is trying to sway them and say: `I can't do that. I'm going to be tested.'"
 
Speaking of positive, getting that result on a drug test doesn't mean that a teen will be turned over to police.
 
That's against the law, said William J. Judge, an
Oak Park attorney who specializes in testing law and is reviewing Wsol's proposal.
 
Details would have to be worked out, but most likely parents would be informed of a positive test.
 
"Treatment and counseling are the goal, not punishment," Judge said.
 
One question about voluntary tests is whether many kids would take them. Judge said the number is greater than you might think.
 
"One school in
North Carolina said 85 percent of the student body is participating," he said. "The difference is the kind of incentives that are offered. It's not just a clothing store discount."
 
Suggested rewards vary widely. Sharon Block, a state legislator in
Idaho, has suggested offering college scholarships to those who pass the tests.
 
A few teens, playing baseball Thursday afternoon at Maine South High School after classes let out for the summer, were unimpressed by the rewards other towns offered and doubted they would affect anyone's decision about using drugs.
 
"They're not going to stop unless they get something good," said Luke Nuccio, 16, who will be a senior in the fall.

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Local students' probing led to new trial
Maudlyne Ihejirika,
Chicago Sun-Times, 6/14/05
 
When three
Stevenson High School students in north suburban Lincolnshire chose to explore the 1964 murders of three civil rights workers as a National History Day project, they never imagined it would lead to a trial.
 
But their 2004 documentary is credited with renewing interest in the 41-year-old "Mississippi Burning" case, and helping bring murder charges this year against a reputed Ku Klux Klansman whose trial began Monday in
Neshoba County, Miss.

"This was a milestone for American justice," said Rep. Mark Kirk (D-Ill.). "I could not be more proud of these three young women in
Lincolnshire. They have played a critical role in cracking open a decades-old murder."
 
Allison Nichols of
Buffalo Grove and partners Sarah Siegel and Brittany Saltiel of Lincolnshire were 16 years old when they began researching their 10-minute documentary, "The C.O.R.E. of the Solution," in summer 2003.
 
While teacher and project supervisor Barry Bradford offered a host of possible subjects for a national contest, the girls said they were drawn to the June 21, 1964, murders of James Chaney, 21, a black man, and his two white companions, Andrew Goodman, 20, and Michael Schwerner, 24, because the victims were not much older than they.
 
"It's important to show future generations that people were willing to rectify the wrongs done during the civil rights movement," said Sarah. "Now that the trial has come to fruition, we're hopeful justice will finally be served."
 
Chaney, from Mississippi, and Goodman and Schwerner, from New York, were volunteers with the Congress of Racial Equality's Freedom Summer 1964, an effort to register blacks in the South to vote. They disappeared. The FBI found their bodies 44 days later, buried in an earthen dam. They had been beaten and shot to death, allegedly by Klansmen.
 
In 1964,
Mississippi refused to prosecute anyone for the murders. In 1967, the U.S. Justice Department took the case and tried 19 people, many of them Klansman, on federal civil rights violations.
 
Accused of setting it up
Seven were convicted and sentenced to prison terms of three to 10 years in the case the FBI dubbed "Mississippi Burning," which became the subject of a 1988 film starring Gene Hackman.
 
Edgar Ray Killen, accused of having organized the carloads of Klansmen who waylaid the three voting rights workers, was freed after his trial ended in a hung jury.
 
Youths won wide support

For their documentary, the girls garnered a rare interview with Killen, 79 at the time, in which he calls the slain workers "communists" on a tape that was turned over to the Justice Department and Mississippi Attorney General Jim Hood.
 
Killen was indicted for murder in January. Hood said the girls' interview provided new evidence.
 
"It's a victory for us personally, but even moreso for the family members, and for everyone in
Mississippi who sought justice in this case for so long," said Allison. "But it's disappointing they've still only indicted one man."
 
Eight of those originally prosecuted are still alive.
 
As part of their research, the girls used more than 160 sources and traveled to
Mississippi and New York.
 
They pored over 2,000 pages of court trial transcripts.
 
They interviewed witnesses, civil rights veterans, former prosecutors and investigators, and government officials, many of whom pledged their support to help re-open the case.
 
"One of the most meaningful interviews was with [Goodman's mother] Dr. Carolyn Goodman, in her home in
New York where Andrew grew up," Brittany said. "We sat in her living room and she showed us old photo albums and we really connected with the personal aspect of Andrew."

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Dist. 300 targets false ethics complaints
Board considers making bad allegations a crime punishable by a fine
Jeffrey Gaunt, Daily Herald, 6/15/04
 
Community Unit District 300 school board members are writing criminal laws and setting fines — and their first targets are residents who falsely allege ethics violations.
 
Only months after absolving three of its own who were accused of ethics violations, the board now is considering a revision in district ethics policy that says filing a false ethics complaint is a crime — punishable by as much as a $5,000 fine.
 
Board member Mary Fioretti, who as a member of the board’s policy committee helped draft the revisions, said the wording comes directly from the Illinois School Code.
 
The purpose, Fioretti said, is to protect board members from residents with vendettas, or those who simply hate school boards.
 
“For frivolous kinds of things there should be a penalty,” Fioretti said.
 
Experts on the U.S. Constitution might find that objectionable.
 
“There’s a constitutional right to petition the government for a redress of grievances,” said Steven Lubert, a professor at the Northwestern University School of Law, citing the First Amendment. “I think government bodies need to brace themselves to listen to grievances.”
 
Ordinarily, Lubert said, people who file complaints against government representatives are protected — except in cases where the complaints are found to be false and malicious.
 
For instance, the state ethics law, which the District 300 policy is based on, does outline instances where a false and malicious complaint could be punishable.
 
But in the section referred to in the district’s ethics policy, there is no mention of a possible fine for an intentionally false report.
 
Either way, the legislature is empowered to write criminal laws. School boards are not.
 
Defining criminal activity or attaching penalties for such falls outside the school board’s authority, which is why board members said they did not in the current policy include a similar section that would lay out the penalties for those who do break the law.
 
“I think that will be an issue of discussion,” board
President John Court said, “whether or not that’s appropriate to have in our policy.”
 
The revisions are now on their way back to committee and will likely come up again at the June 27 board meeting.

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Glenbard offers parents payment installment plan
Deborah Kadin, Chicago Tribune, 6/1/05
 
A Glenbard High School District 87 education may cost more this fall. But the district is going to take some of the sting out of paying the bill.
 
The school board Monday approved a plan that would allow parents to pay some of the fees over as many as four installments.
 
Eligible under this option are such required costs as a $180 registration/activity charge and fees for physical education, art and family/consumer science classes.
 
Parents can also defer the $300 price tag for driver education if the course is taken during the second semester. Payments can be automatically deducted from a checking account.
 
Not eligible are optional fees such as the parking, sports, late registration and course changes. Those fees run $160, $140, $40 and $35 respectively.
 
Fees were raised dramatically this year to help preserve extra-curricular and athletic programs and meet rising costs for some courses, district officials said.
 
Acting Supt. Michael Warner said the installment plan would enable parents to pay a child's education over time.

Fees are waived for 800 students who are on the free-lunch program. Payments are deferred for 600 students on the federal reduced-lunch program or other students who qualify on a case-by-case basis, said John Moss, the district's director for special services.
 
It has not yet been determined how the new plan will affect those 600 students, Moss said.
 
Also Monday, the school board gave its blessing to the efforts of the student support committee, directing members to come back with some recommendations later this summer.
 
At the same time, representatives from United4Glenbard--an organization created last year to support the district's failed tax rate-hike drives--announced that any of its unused cash, about $4,700, would go to a student-support program.
 
That money will be directed to the Glenbard Partnership for Educational Progress fund. Glenbard PEP is part of a larger non-profit foundation that supports educational efforts in the high school and all of the elementary feeder districts.
 
As a political committee, United4Glenbard is limited by state law in how its leftover cash is used. Funds can be returned to contributors or given to a charitable organization such as PEP. The money can also be transferred to another political committee if another referendum drive is mounted.
 
Additional money for the support committee could come this summer as, for the second year, parents can donate money for Glenbard PEP during registration. Last year $3,000 was raised for programs. Parents this time can decide whether to donate money toward class materials or to the support committee.

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Make tutors prove they work
Chicago Tribune Editorial, 6/16/05
 
Private tutoring firms have exploded almost overnight in response to the federal No Child Left Behind law. Though public schools are being held strictly accountable for raising student achievement under that landmark education reform, the same can't be said for the $200-million-a year tutoring industry.
 
Providing extra instruction is vital to the success of No Child Left Behind, yet monitoring the effectiveness of the tutoring industry has been lax here and elsewhere in the country. That's a problem, because many firms are new and untested, and the supply of firms has not yet caught up to the sudden and huge demand.
 
In
Illinois, the state's monitoring of 75 approved tutoring companies has been almost non-existent. Chicago and some other local school districts have been forced to try to police these firms on their own.
 
Fortunately, under pressure from the federal government, that promises to change soon.
 
Officials with the State Board of Education on Wednesday proposed emergency rules that would vastly increase state oversight of the financial and academic effectiveness of the private tutors. If the full board approves these rules on Thursday,
Illinois will boast some of the strictest oversight in the nation.
 
Better oversight means taxpayers will be more likely to get their money's worth out of after-school tutoring. And students who need the extra help will be more likely to get it. This has been a long time coming. Under the law, the state board should have done this three years ago.
 
The proposed rules call for closely analyzing student achievement gains from the beginning to the end of the year, comparing tutored children to untutored children. This information will help determine which private tutoring companies raise student achievement and which ones don't. The data also should help parents choose among tutoring companies and inform school officials about which firms to drop.
 
The new rules also require private firms to reveal far more information about their costs in an effort to make tutoring available to as many kids as possible.
Chicago has the largest number of kids who need tutoring, but can provide it only to a small share of those kids. This coming school year, Chicago expects 230,000 public school students to be eligible for extra after-school help. But with $50 million from the federal government and a state cap of $2,000 per student, only 25,000 students may get tutoring.
 
The state's finally moving in the right direction. Until now, the state's effort has consisted of three staffers who review simple applications from prospective tutor firms. There are plans now to contract for the analysis of the far more voluminous information that will come in under the new rules. It will take a real effort to assure that the state's students are getting the most they can from the demands and promise of No Child Left Behind.

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Schools can use program to cut costs
By ADRIANA COLINDRES, State Journal-Register, State Capital Bureau,
6/17/05

Illinois school districts now have the option to buy supplies and services through a pooled-purchasing program intended to cut costs, state School Superintendent Randy Dunn said Thursday.

Through the new Illinois School Purchasing Network, the Illinois State Board of Education is partnering with U.S. Communities, a national not-for-profit governmental purchasing cooperative, Dunn said at a news conference at ISBE headquarters in
Springfield.

"We don't want local school districts spending any more on supplies and services than they need to," Dunn said.

The network will provide "access to high-quality services at the best government prices that are available," he said.

Chris Robb of U.S. Communities said the cooperative has competitively solicited contracts with suppliers. For example, U.S. Communities has a contract with Office Depot to provide office and school supplies. It also has contracts with Haworth, Herman Miller, Knoll and Steelcase for office furniture, according to U.S. Communities' Web site. Other available materials include technology products, janitorial products and physical education and playground equipment.

Illinois school districts can get more information online at www.isbe.net/savings. Contracts through the network are free, voluntary and carry no minimum spending amounts, Dunn said.

Eric Trimberger, director of finance for the
Plainfield school district in suburban Chicago, said his district has been working with Office Depot through U.S. Communities since late last year. The district has been saving about $6,000 a month since then, he said.

When Gov. Rod Blagojevich delivered his January 2004 State of the State address, he said money could be saved by creating a central purchasing unit to buy school supplies and by centralizing benefits such as health insurance. A law was passed allowing the governor to appoint seven of the board's nine members.
 
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Limited-English schoolkids get a break on testing
BY KATE N. GROSSMAN, Sun-Times Education Reporter, 6/17/05

It just got easier for 61,000 limited-English schoolchildren to meet the testing standards of the federal No Child Left Behind law.

The state Board of Education on Thursday approved new, lower passing scores for an exam given to students in bilingual programs for less than three years. They will be applied to tests given this spring.

Since the No Child law passed in 2002, critics have said the test's scoring system treated limited-English students unfairly. The new scoring cutoff is meant to rectify that, the state said.

This is just the latest proposal to make it easier for
Illinois children to pass the No Child standards. The feds recently said states could let more special-education students take modified state exams. Illinois is waiting for the feds to OK its plan, which could affect 11,500 kids.

Both the special-education and limited-English changes generally garnered broad support, but a more controversial set of changes also is awaiting federal approval.

No Child says a certain percentage of each subgroup -- including racial and ethnic groups as well as bilingual and special education -- are expected to meet grade-level standards in reading and math annually.

Among other changes,
Illinois wants to increase the minimum size of the subgroups, from 40 to 50. Had that been in effect last year, 144 more schools and 58 more districts would have met No Child standards. The state says this will make the results more reliable.

'A step in the right direction'

Thursday's change to the bilingual test, known as IMAGE, will likely usher in major change. Last year, just 8.9 percent of 11th-grade students who took IMAGE met reading standards. Had the new cutoff scores been in place, that would have jumped to 52 percent.

Altering the IMAGE cutoff scores was overdue because the test's purpose changed with the No Child law, state officials said. IMAGE was intended to test proficiency in English, to see if a student could exit a bilingual program and take the regular state exam.

IMAGE is now used to measure academic progress. That's a more challenging standard, especially since the test is in English and these children haven't mastered English. To accommodate that, the cutoff scores were lowered.

Advocates applaud the change but are hopeful the state will replace IMAGE with an exam designed to test academic progress.

"The new cutoff scores are a step in the right direction," said Josie Yanguas, spokeswoman for the Illinois Association for Multilingual, Multicultural Education.

Also Thursday, the board passed a new, tougher system for monitoring the private tutors who worked with 120,000 children after school this year, a program mandated by the No Child law.
 
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Investigators slap SD 168 official with subpoena
Associate superintendent to appear before grand jury investigation into district's finances 
By Linda Lutton, Daily Southtown Staff writer, 6/17/05
 
The criminal investigation involving Supt. Thomas E. Ryan in
Sauk Village's elementary school district spilled into public view Wednesday when investigators from the Cook County state's attorney's office arrived at a school board meeting with a subpoena.

A few minutes before the meeting's scheduled start, the investigator told Associate Supt. George Kunkel to appear Thursday before a
Cook County grand jury. Kunkel was to bring with him all meeting minutes and audio recordings from district board meetings, the Southtown has learned.

Several board members and school employees were present at the time.

Kunkel declined to answer questions Thursday about the subpoena or his scheduled appearance before the grand jury.

The grand jury was convened to investigate problems uncovered in Community Consolidated School District 168's most recent audit, sources close to the investigation have told the Daily Southtown, as well as additional unusual payments authorized by Ryan revealed in a Southtown investigation.

Board members at Wednesday's meeting did not discuss the state's attorney's probe or the issues raised by auditors. They have not acted on a recommendation by auditors to order a further review of the district's books.

They did vote to keep secret all minutes from closed-session board meetings for the past 15 years. Only board member Alex Sustek voted against it.

The minutes date back to Ryan's first year in the district. Closed-session meetings can only deal with a limited number of issues, including litigation, land purchases, personnel issues and student discipline.

The state's Open Meetings Act requires school districts and other public bodies to review closed-session minutes every six months and to release minutes or portions of minutes once confidentiality is no longer an issue.

Sustek, a foreman with
Sauk Village's public works department, was elected to the board in April. His vote constitutes the first "no" vote of any board member on any issue since 2002.

Before the board meeting Wednesday, in a small room in District 168's administrative center, board members Cecial Tates and Debra Carl pored over district payments, flagging questionable expenditures. Board president Louise Morales also was present.

The three-member finance committee is an oversight body formed in the wake of the audit, which found that "no one in a position above the superintendent is currently reviewing and approving payments." State education officials have requested proof that the committee is meeting and doing its job.

The district released a policy Wednesday to govern the committee, to be voted on by board members next month, that calls for the committee to review district audits and expenditures. One provision of the policy requires the committee to "discuss all recommendations with the District Superintendent of Schools prior to presenting them to the full board for approval."

Carl said the committee has reviewed all "accounts payable" expenditures from November 2004 through May.

It has not looked at any expenditures from the district's Homework Lab account — though the policy calls for such activity accounts to be reviewed quarterly. The Southtown reported last month that thousands of dollars in donations to the Homework Lab account that were supposed to pay for tutoring instead were spent on graduation gifts to Ryan's daughters, Blackhawks tickets, gift certificates to restaurants and retail stores.

Recently, the school board authorized several bonuses for employees.

Ed Bernacki, the district's supervisor of buildings and grounds, was among 15 school employees to be paid a bonus this week. Bernacki, mentioned in the audit because he received a $72,000 no-bid lighting contract from the district, got a bonus check for $1,750.

Records indicate Bernacki drew the district's highest salary last school year after Ryan and Kunkel, earning $76,353 — more than any principal or teacher.

The $20,750 in "salary incentive checks," which ranged from $750 to $4,000, were approved unanimously at a "study session" a week before the regular board meeting. Only Kunkel, who got a check for $4,000, received a larger bonus than Bernacki. No teachers were on the list.

Others who received bonuses include: Ryan's secretary Lenore Brentine, $1,500; maintenance employee Michael Eiermann, $1,500; and payroll clerk April Metcalf, $750.
 
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City adds its muscle to tough truancy issue
Rockford Register Star Editorial, 6/17/05

Superintendent Dennis Thompson said the
Rockford public schools know who the truants are. They know where they live, why they are truant and what agencies have tried to help them.

There's one problem. The schools have no enforcement ability, no hammer to get the kids back in class.

That's where the city of
Rockford can help. Speaking to school principals at a training session this week, Mayor Larry Morrissey signaled his commitment to a greater city role on truancy. That's a relief.

The problem has reached alarming levels in
Rockford. More than 8 percent of students have been identified as chronically truant, a figure four times the state average.

The details about a city-school partnership have yet to be filled in. But Morrissey wants to hire a hearing officer at City Hall who could handle truancy cases. Then, the city wouldn't have to wait a full year to take legal action against truants, as is the current rule. The city could use existing ordinances to act before then, assigning cases to the hearing officer and giving students and families the intervention they need now.

"The key is to catch them early," Thompson said.

Hands down, he said, the reason for truancy is the parents -- and that's especially true with younger children. When district counselors go to homes and investigate truancy cases, the story is the same. The parents don't get up in time. There's no supervision.

Morrissey is on the right track by suggesting the city levy some punishment for parents, short of a fine. He supports a community service penalty, such as volunteering in the schools.

Community service, yes. Helping out in the schools, no. It's a good idea to hold the parents accountable. But not in the schools, where they aren't likely to be appropriate role models. After all, they can't get their kids to school.

How about if they pick up trash? That would be a good reminder when the alarm goes off. Even better, how about parenting classes?

The superintendent said he and the mayor have met on three separate occasions and have had long discussions on city involvement. The goal is to have a tougher truancy system in place by the fall.

We admire the aggressiveness on a problem that residents have consistently identified as one of the most serious facing the city. We worry, however, about creating a dual system on truancy, with coordination a nightmare.

All it may take, though, is a few well-publicized prosecutions to be an effective deterrent, to send the message that truancy will not be tolerated. And mean it.
 
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===========================================================================

NATIONAL

Reading, Writing and Recruiting
Column by Diane Paul, who has worked for Human Rights Watch in Bosnia and has served as a consultant to UNICEF and other U.N. agencies, Washington Post, 6/11/05
 
Across the country military recruiters are working overtime in schools, trying to persuade young people to join a military desperate for soldiers. But this is a country at war, and we have to ask ourselves whether children between the ages of 14 and 17 have the maturity to make what may be life-or-death decisions based on promises of easy cash and a college education -- promises that sometimes don't come true.
 
Poor children (often minorities) without money for college are recruiters' easiest targets. Far too many of our nation's disadvantaged youth are forced to gamble with their lives for an opportunity other Americans take for granted. During one-on-one chats with our children, recruiters provide a false image of what joining up means. Images of tough guys and gals in snappy uniforms piloting attack helicopters and driving big Humvees seem pretty exciting to many kids. But the gruesome realities of war and the chance of serving in
Iraq or Afghanistan before ever setting foot on a college campus are details left out of slick recruitment brochures. It is beyond heartbreaking to wonder how many 18-year-olds -- still so young -- understood, when told of the opportunities awaiting them, that they might never come home.
 
How has it happened that recruiters -- who used to come only on career days -- are now present in our schools much of the time? I would wager that most parents have no idea that the No Child Left Behind Act offers public high schools a choice: Provide access to and information about students "for purposes of military recruitment" or risk losing federal funding.
 
What does this have to do with educational reform, what No Child Left Behind is supposed to be about? A letter sent to educators in October 2002 by then-Education Secretary Rod Paige and Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld is revealing. It states: "Sustaining that heritage [defending freedom] requires the active support of public institutions in presenting military opportunities to our young people for their consideration. Recognizing the challenges faced by military recruiters, Congress recently passed legislation that requires high schools to provide to recruiters, upon request, access to secondary school students and directory information on those students. Both the No Child Left Behind Act of 2001 and the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2002 reflect these requirements." It seems obvious that recruitment drives in schools have nothing to with educational reform. This is about our government solving its recruitment problem.
 
What is a concerned parent to do, especially as recruitment efforts are redoubled? In my town of
Cookeville, Tenn., when Quakers and Vietnam War veterans informed students how they could serve their country in other ways, they were banned from the high school for months and called "anti-American." But when an Army recruiter presented a program called "What Patriotism Is" to all the second-graders (7-year-olds) in our county, no one said a word.
 
Under the No Child Left Behind Act, schools are legally obligated to inform parents of their right to "opt out" of having information about their children given to the military. But the schools often fail to inform, or bury opt-out information in legally obscure language at the back of a student handbook. Opting out seems rather insignificant given the fact that recruiters have physical access on a frequent basis to our schoolchildren.
 
Without doubt, a great debt is owed to our military, and a military career can be a path of pride and opportunity. The government has a duty to ensure that the military has the soldiers and equipment it needs. But the government must also ensure the protection of our children and safeguard the role of public schools as places of learning. The military should not be permitted to use our schools as vehicles to send young people to war.
 
Educators, parents and students should demand that Congress rescind those laws that violate the fundamental trust parents have in public schools by requiring schools to become recruitment offices.

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As School Bus Sexual Assaults Rise, Danger Often Overlooked
By Elizabeth Williamson and Lori
Aratani, Washington Post Staff Writers, 6/14/05

Last spring, a sixth-grade
Montgomery County girl was thrown down in the back of her school bus by several older boys who, the girl said, grabbed her breasts and buttocks and feigned sex acts.

In December, a 6-year-old
Frederick County girl was allegedly fondled by a middle-schooler while riding a bus to her gifted student program. Her mother said she didn't learn of the incident until May, when the driver told her.

Two months ago, an 11-year-old girl was allegedly attacked by two girls and three boys during a bus ride home from her elementary school, south of
Richmond. The group, the girl said, held her down, groped her and penetrated her with an object.

Every day, 440,000 school buses ferry 18 million children to and from schools and activities across the
United States. Accidents, seat belts and safe crossings generally are the matters parents worry about. But experts say sexual assaults on school buses, one of the fastest-growing forms of school violence, seldom register as a safety concern.

Although many school systems don't identify bus assaults independently of all school violence, administrators, teachers and bus drivers say the nature and frequency of the attacks are increasing, and at younger ages. The incident involving the Germantown girl was one of four alleged sexual assaults on Montgomery County's school buses this school year; the alleged attackers in Virginia were as young as 8.

A 2001 report commissioned by the American Association of University Women found that eight of every 10 students in grades 8 through 11 report having been sexually harassed at school, most often by peers. One-third of students surveyed said they were first harassed in grade school.

"I've never experienced the problems and the degenerate actions of kids as I have this past year," said bus driver Bob Baxley of
Hagerstown, Md., who has been driving school buses for 12 years. He was driving during the alleged attack in Frederick. On the same bus, Baxley saw middle school boys describe sex acts to first-graders and one boy try to shove a condom into another child's mouth.

"Sexual harassment is a much more serious issue in public schools than most people have been willing to admit," said Robert Shoop, a professor at
Kansas State University. "And it's much more likely to occur in unsupervised venues -- like buses or bathrooms."

Buses are "more dangerous, in that society has become more sexualized and less civil," Shoop added. "Now many more kids are saying, 'I don't want to ride the bus.' They're scared."

Yet, he said, only about 5 to 10 percent of students report being victimized. "It takes a lot of courage on the kid's part and money on the parent's part" to press forward with charges, Shoop said.

Schools, safety advocates say, need to improve school bus supervision, teach students about appropriate behavior and encourage students to report incidents that cross the line. When incidents do occur, quick and decisive action by schools and police is vital, Shoop said. "Kids have to see there are consequences," he said. Otherwise, "they don't see it as serious."

Sometimes neither participants nor victims know when bad behavior becomes criminal.

In March last year, Jessica Killian found her daughter Ashley, then 11, crying in her bedroom in the family's
Germantown home. She told her mom her stomach hurt. She couldn't bring herself to tell her mother that on the bus ride home from Roberto Clemente Middle School that afternoon, six older boys allegedly held her down on the bus floor, groped and lay on top of her. It wasn't until the next day, when she got on the bus and the boys threatened to "finish what they started," her mother said, that Ashley told an assistant principal what happened. The school called her mother, and her mother called police.

Two students were transferred, two others suspended. A police report was completed, and the state's attorney's office recommended charges. But the case file was misplaced by police. By the time it resurfaced, the statute of limitations governing the crimes had expired.
 
"We recognize we made a mistake" in the case, said Lt. Eric Burnett, a
Montgomery County police spokesman, and the department is working to ensure it doesn't recur.

Since the beginning of the school year, there have been 26 alleged incidents of sexual harassment on school buses in Montgomery, including one two weeks ago involving five students at White Oak Middle School and one in February at Clemente, system spokesman Brian Edwards said. Only four were serious enough to involve police, but the incidents have spurred school officials to take action.

In May, school administrators formed a work group to help improve communication among bus drivers, schools and the central office. In the fall, school officials will launch a campaign to educate students about proper bus behavior. They are also considering whether to add cameras on buses; of the 1,200 buses in the system's fleet, only 20 are equipped with cameras.

Clemente Principal Rosalva Rosas said she's found that middle-schoolers, on the cusp between child- and adulthood, "don't always know how to act appropriately."

That seemed the case in December in Frederick, when, in the last few days before Christmas vacation, the 6-year-old girl, bundled in her lavender parka, climbed aboard the middle school bus that shuttled her to a gifted program at Urbana Elementary School. For two 40-minute trips each day, the child was one of two or three first-graders on a bus for middle-schoolers.

That winter morning, the girl was sitting in a front seat with a classmate when one of the middle-school boys sat nearby and began "tickling her" in a way that "could have been construed" as sexual harassment, said Baxley, her bus driver. The girl later said the tickling included her "private parts." In early May, Baxley mentioned the incident to the child's mother, who hadn't known about it.

"He called it 'fondling,' " the girl's mother said. "I was crying and shaking." She said the driver told her that he'd told school officials, who say they have no record of that. Last week,
Frederick County police detective Willie Ollie said no charges would be brought because statements from the girl and Baxley did not support a sexual assault charge. But the girl's family disputes that; they have yet to decide their course of action, said the family's attorney, Eugene Souder.

Schools often handle discipline issues internally, making it hard to judge the scope of the assault problem, said Beverly Glenn, executive director of the Hamilton Fish Institute in
Washington, which studies school and community violence. "Under No Child Left Behind, you don't want your school to be characterized as an 'unsafe' school," she said, because "you lose students, you lose money."

Other districts, however, believe swift and decisive action is the way to prevent such incidents from becoming regular occurrences.

It was a Friday afternoon and the bus was full when an 11-year-old girl boarded it for the trip home from
Lakeview Elementary School near Richmond. Before the first stop, three boys and two girls ages 8 to 13 allegedly grabbed the child, held her down in the back of the bus and assaulted her with an object.

The driver saw the incident, notified supervisors and the school, drove the child to her stop and told her mother. Police and the school coordinated investigations: Colonial Heights School Superintendent Joseph Cox told local media that he wanted "the maximum discipline available" for the children, who were placed on house arrest, with electronic monitoring.

Within a week, police announced they were seeking charges ranging in severity from abduction to aggravated sexual battery.

Immediately after the incident, adult patrols were put on all
Colonial Heights school buses. Two of the children involved have been expelled, and the School Board plans action on the remaining three.

"I went through this school system, and I couldn't even imagine that something like that would've taken place," Cox said. Now that it has, "we're going to go back and do better."
 
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Education department offers tutoring guidance
AP,
6/13/05
 
WASHINGTON -- How can parents find tips for no-cost tutoring for their kids? Just thumb through the manual the government put out Monday to elaborate on a key goal of the No Child Left Behind Act.

The new guidance, issued by the Department of Education to states and school districts, seeks to clarify their roles in providing tutoring for pupils in poorly performing schools.

The document also has ideas on how to connect parents to providers of supplemental educational services, who offer free tutoring and other academic activities to students.

Under the No Child Left Behind Act, President Bush's signature educaton policy, pupils from poor families who attend schools that have not made "adequate yearly progress" are eligible for such tutoring assistance.

The new guide runs more than 60 pages and clarifies steps that states and school districts must take when a district is identified as being "in need of improvement."

Also included as a model letter that districts may use or emulate when informing parents of the opportunity to sign up their children for no-cost tutoring.

Education Secretary Margaret Spellings said the guidance, last updated in August 2003, provides important information for states, school districts and providers about their roles and responsibilities regarding supplemental educational services.

"We hope it enables more families to access high-quality supplemental educational services programs, and helps schools across the country close the achievement gap," she said in a written statement.
 
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Bill targets abusive educators
Proposed legislation prompted by Detroit News report requires monthly criminal checks.
By Marisa Schultz, The
Detroit News, 6/14/05

School and day care employees would be required to self-report any felonies or certain misdemeanors under legislation introduced today to protect children from abusive educators.

Employees would face a two-year felony for not reporting a sex crime arrest to their employer and to the Department of Education and a one-year misdemeanor for other crimes. To ensure compliance, the teachers' criminal history would be checked monthly with a state police database.

"It's a giant step in the right direction," said an Ann Arbor father whose daughter was sexually abused by her fourth-grade teacher, Worlee Dennis Jr., who retained his teaching certificate even after two criminal convictions involving sexual misconduct. "We've had quite a few situations where the system failed, and the children in the state need that protection."

The News is not naming the father because of a general policy not to identify the victims of sexual assault.

The proposed legislation is part of a package of bills, called the Student Safety Initiative, that was prompted by a Detroit News special report in April that found communication lapses between prosecutors, courts and the state mean some teachers convicted of sexual misconduct remain certified; and state officials sometimes learn about convicted educators through the media.

After the report, Gov. Jennifer Granholm asked the Department of Education to review its practices, and House Speaker Craig DeRoche, R-Novi, called on the Legislature to review state laws.

"Schools are supposed to be a safe environment for our children," DeRoche said in a statement. "The terrifying reality, however, is that right now, many children are at risk."

Also under the proposed legislation, teachers convicted of a sex offense would be prohibited from teaching again; evidence of prior child molestation and sexual assault would be admissible in court; and sex offenders would be banned from working or volunteering at a day care center, school, playground or youth league.

Charol Shakeshaft, an expert on educator sex abuse, warned against the false sense of security of background checks.

"I think it is important to stress teaching kids and other teachers about how to identify adults who are likely to be at risk for being abusers," Shakeshaft said when the bills were being considered.
 
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Acrimony, doubts remain in
Ohio on school science standards
State was first to incorporate critical analysis of evolution
By Diane Carroll,
Kansas City Star, 6/14/05

Kansas is getting a lot of attention as it considers adopting science standards that call for studying what some call the shortcomings of evolution.

But it is not the first state to do so.
Ohio receives that designation.

When
Ohio adopted science standards in December 2002, both sides in the debate claimed victory. That’s because evolution proponents read compromise language in the standards one way, while intelligent design proponents read it quite another.

But there is no debate over which side won in March 2004 when the Ohio Board of Education approved a lesson plan for teachers on how to critically analyze
Darwin’s theory.

“Of course scientists are not against critical analysis,” said evolution defender Patricia Princehouse. She teaches evolutionary biology and the history and philosophy of science at
Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland. “That would be like the Chiquita company being against bananas. But this is not critical analysis. These are well-known creationist lies about science.”

A national group that promotes intelligent design, however, sees the lesson plan as “a splendid example of how you can do something that is based on good science and good pedagogy” without treating
Darwin’s theory “like it’s some sort of sacred dogma. … We would think that something similar in Kansas would be a great result,” said John West, a senior fellow with the Seattle-based Discovery Institute.

On Wednesday the Kansas Board of Education will receive a report recommending that new teaching standards include strong criticism of evolution. The report from a three-member board subcommittee stops short of endorsing intelligent design, the theory that the universe is too complex to be explained by natural causes alone.

Watching both
Ohio and Kansas is Americans United for Separation of Church and State. The Washington-based group has joined with the American Civil Liberties Union in a lawsuit against a school board in Dover, Pa., which included intelligent design in its curriculum. That case, pending in federal court, has attracted national attention.

Intelligent design proponents have tried to distance themselves from creationism because the courts have ruled that teaching creationism is unconstitutional, said Robert Boston, a spokesman for Americans United.

Deborah Owens-Fink, an
Ohio board member who promoted the intelligent design view, said the standards and the lesson plan have nothing to do with creationism. Owens-Fink said she was not concerned about possible litigation.

The man who ignited the debate over the standards in
Ohio was John Calvert of Lake Quivira.

In the
Kansas debate, Calvert is the attorney for eight members of the 26-member science standards committee who want students to study evolution more critically.

Ohio began work on its standards in 2001. It was the same year that Calvert retired early from the Lathrop & Gage law firm to devote his time to the Intelligent Design Network of Shawnee Mission, which he had co-founded.

On a cold January night in 2002, Calvert was in
Columbus, Ohio, to address the standards committee of the Ohio Board of Education. The committee is comprised of about half of the state board’s 19 members.

One of them, evolution defender Martha Wise, remembers Calvert well.

“I sat through his half-hour presentation and thought, ‘What is he talking about — a higher power?’ During a break, I remember going over to some people who are recognized as our Ohio Academy of Science and I said to them: ‘It sounds like he is talking about God’ and they said: ‘You got it.’ I was flabbergasted.”

Also in the audience was Robert Lattimer, a chemist and leader of an
Ohio group set up to lobby the board for more criticism of evolution. Lattimer met Calvert in the summer of 2001, when Calvert’s group was host of a seminar in Kansas City.

Evolution defenders heard about Calvert’s appearance in advance, Lattimer said.

“They were just really aghast that they (the committee) would let this guy come in from
Kansas and challenge evolution,” Lattimer said.

But Owens-Fink and other members of the
Ohio board were impressed enough with what Calvert said to agree to hold a debate between proponents of evolution and intelligent design.

The evolutionists were represented by biologist Ken Miller of
Brown University and Lawrence Krauss, chairman of the physics department at Case Western Reserve University. The intelligent design side was represented by Stephen Meyer and Jonathan Wells of the Discovery Institute.

Early on, some people in
Ohio wanted to require the teaching of intelligent design, said West, of the Discovery Institute. “When we got involved, we made it very clear we didn’t want that.”

Instead, Meyer proposed that teachers “teach the controversy” over evolution. The idea was not new to Discovery Institute leaders, West said, “but it might be correct to say it was the first time it rose to national prominence.”

The debate in
Ohio drew so much attention that the state board was inundated with 40,000 e-mails, letters and petitions, said Owens-Fink, the board member who promoted the intelligent design view. That kind of pressure, many agreed, helped push the board in October 2002 to insert language into the standards that said: “Describe how scientists continue to investigate and critically analyze aspects of evolution.”

When the Discovery Institute immediately claimed victory, Wise said, she negotiated additional language that said the October clause did not mandate the teaching or testing of intelligent design. The board included that language when it approved the standards unanimously in December 2002.

But the controversy did not end there.

A committee then began working on suggested lesson plans for teachers who wanted help implementing the standards. By late 2003, rumors began circulating of lesson plans that contained intelligent design concepts. The board ended up approving one of the plans that called for critical analysis of evolution.

Calvert says
Ohio now has standards that are friendlier to intelligent design than any other state. But Kansas will take over that spot if its board adopts the subcommittee’s report, which does not specifically mention intelligent design but spreads concepts related to it throughout the proposed standards. A decision is expected later this summer.
 
TOP OF PAGE

Charter schools failing on reform goals, ASU study concludes
By Pat Kossan, The
Arizona Republic, 6/12/05

Charter schools have failed in their promise to reform the public school system and improve student academic achievement, a study released last month by
Arizona State University concludes.

The study reviewed research about charter schools in seven states, including
Arizona, and found that charter and district schools are producing similar student test scores. Despite smaller classes on smaller campuses, charters are not improving academic achievement of needy students, who traditionally lag behind their wealthier peers.

"The failure becomes even harder to understand given the advantages that charters enjoy in their freedom from the rules, regulations and contracts that are said to bureaucratically burden the public schools," reported author Gerald Bracey of
George Mason University in Virginia. advertisement 
 
Clint Bolick, president of the Arizona-based
Alliance for School Choice, called the report "ideology, not scholarship" and said competition from charters has forced district schools to improve.

Charters are privately operated schools funded by state education money. The state does not require charters to conform to many state regulations, such as hiring licensed teachers, but the state ranks both district and charter schools based on students' standardized test scores. About 82,000 students attend 500 charter schools in
Arizona.

Kurt Davis, president of the Arizona State Board for Charter Schools, said the charter movement has " numerous examples of excellence and, in some cases, a need to improve."

"The charter experience in
Arizona is a success in progress," Davis said.
 
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Digital divide narrows
Computer use among the young is prevalent, for poor and affluent
By Mike Sherry, The
Kansas City Star, 6/13/05

As Connie Crumble worked her way through a room full of computers, she came upon Ja’River Dunlap.

“Find ‘N’ … nnnnnnnnnn,” Crumble enunciated to the 5-year-old student.

With no computer at home, Ja’River is like many children in the computer center of Operation Breakthrough, a Midtown agency that serves families, including those with low incomes.

Yet Ja’River, who was learning basic computer skills needed in today’s wired world, can be viewed as a symbol of progress in the effort to erase the digital divide — a gap that often means the nation’s poor do not have the same access to technology as members of the middle and upper class.

“Exposure is the key word,” Crumble said.

There is fresh evidence that, unlike low-income adults, children like Ja’River are not too far behind their more well-off counterparts in getting that exposure.

The data comes from a U.S. Department of Education report released this month.

The report used annual household income — more than $75,000 versus less than $20,000 — and the educational levels of adults in those homes — graduate education versus high school dropouts — to compare computer usage among classes.

In general, the report said that wealthier and better educated adults were three or four times more likely to use computers than the poorer and less-educated adults.

Yet the gulf that separated students living in those varied circumstances was only about a quarter or a third as large as the one experienced by adults.

At the same time, the study found that computer use among students is prevalent, even at a very young age.

According to the report, more than two-thirds of children in nursery school are computer users.

One of those youngsters is Dominique Campbell, 5, who was also at Operation Breakthrough recently.

Though the boy uses computers at his aunts’ homes, Dominique’s grandmother, Connie Campbell, is thankful for the instruction he gets from Crumble.

The computer work at Operation Breakthrough is helping him with his motor skills and better preparing him for kindergarten, she said.

“It’s really good,”
Campbell said. “That’s what it is all about now — computers.”

The Education Department report’s findings illustrate that children today are persistent in finding ways to take advantage of the technology, said Susan Patrick, director of the Education Department’s Office of Educational Technology.

“We live in a technology-rich world,” she said in a telephone interview, “and they are just exploring what exists around them, whether that is at home or school or some other place.”

When that “other place” is a child-care setting, those same parents who have limited access to computers can be the driving force in making sure technology is available for their children.

That’s the experience of Ramona Downs, director of quality initiatives for the Family Conservancy, a Kansas City, Kan.-based operation that provides technical assistance to about 350 child-care operators across the metropolitan area.

More and more of these operators have computers for the children,
Downs said: “When it’s important to the parents, it’s also important to the providers.”

Schools also are making a concerted effort to ensure that the neediest students spend time on computers.

The North Kansas City School District, for instance, uses state grant money to provide additional classroom computers for the neediest students who may not have computers at home, said Janet Herdman, the district’s director of technology services.

“We’re looking at: How do you level the playing field?” she said.

Advocates who serve poor children cautioned that, even though these children may have nearly as much access to computers as wealthier students, it still does not mean the two groups’ experiences are comparable.

That’s because the low-income students often are working on donated computers that lag behind the latest technology.

Associated Youth Services in
Kansas City, Kan., for example, is unable to use some reading software given to the agency because its computers are not modern enough, said Tina Richardson, the agency’s education director.

Meanwhile, Operation Breakthrough co-director Sister Berta Sailer said the structured time at her center may not be the best way for students to learn.

“My gut feeling is that they get good on computers by just messing with them,” she said, “and kids using them here and in school don’t have that luxury.”

But that did not keep Crumble from her nonstop work in the computer center, as she helped two, three, four children at a time.

Sitting sideways in her rolling chair at one point, she put her arm around a little girl and helped her move the mouse.

Then, she leaned back a little and directed her attention to 5-year-old Myracle Weathers.

“Are you matching?” Crumble asked Myracle.

Crumble watched a bit and was pleased.

“Good girl. Good girl,” she said. “Yeah, good girl.”

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Students’ BB gun science project banned
Mass. eighth-graders wanted to show toys are dangerous
MSNBC
 
AMHERST, Mass. - Two eighth-graders who spent months working on a science project to prove how dangerous BB guns can be were disqualified from the state middle school science fair. The reason for the dismissal: BB guns are too dangerous.
 
Nathan C. Woodard and Nathaniel A. Gorlin-Crenshaw spent seven months researching and testing their hypothesis that BB guns can be deadly and should not be used by children.
 
The students spent about $200 on ballistics gelatin, which has the same density and consistency as human flesh, to use during their tests.
 
‘We had a good point to prove’
Nancy G. Degon, vice president of Massachusetts State Science Fair Inc. and co-chair of the middle-school fair, said fair rules prohibit hazardous substances and devices.
 
“The scientific review committee does not consider science projects involving firearms to be safe for middle school students,” Degon said.
 
The boys were invited to present their findings to some judges and receive a certificate of accomplishment, but they rejected the offer because they were not allowed to compete.
 
“I was really disappointed,” Woodard said. “We had a good point to prove.”
 
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Edison in Chester: How plan failed
A school privatization effort in Chester Upland ends in disappointment and doubt.
By Dale Mezzacappa,
Philadelphia Inquirer Staff Writer, 6/16/05

Edison Schools Inc. will leave the Chester Upland School District this month with losses the company puts at $30 million and modest improvements in student achievement, having failed in its effort to show that a private company could rescue such a troubled urban district.

It leaves in its wake a disappointed community, vexing questions for policymakers over what to do next, and doubts about privatization - one of the key strategies of the federal No Child Left Behind law.

The state-imposed partnership was troubled from the start.
Edison shared authority with a wary district administration, and lost crucial support in the community when it could not deliver on its lofty promises. From the beginning, Edison said it lacked accurate information on what it could expect from the district.

"It may be erroneous to assume it is easy to turn around achievement in public schools simply by changing management structures," said
Chad d'Entremont, assistant director for the National Center for the Study of Privatization in Education at Columbia University's Teachers College.

Chris Whittle,
Edison's founder and president, said he believed that privatization can work and that Chester is an anomaly.

"I don't think anyone, us or the state, fully understood the extent of
Chester's financial plight," Whittle said.

Edison's losses consist of $8.6 million in infrastructure investments, such as wiring and computers, and more than $20 million in operating costs, Edison officials said. Edison said it is still owed $2.2 million in fees.

Chester Upland has a decades-long history of problems.

In deep debt, it was declared fiscally distressed and taken over by the state in 1994. In 2000, the legislature passed the Education Empowerment Act targeting low-performing districts; for Chester Upland, it meant an immediate takeover and privatization.

The partnership, pushed by the state onto a reluctant district, had too many problems, Whittle said. A more cooperative partnership could have worked better, he said, pointing to
Edison's records in Philadelphia, where it operates 20 schools, and Baltimore, where it operates three. Philadelphia, encouraged by Edison's progress, recently awarded the company control of two additional schools.

Thomas Persing, a member of the Board of Control that hired
Edison, agrees that the hybrid administrative arrangement and confused lines of authority in Chester made Edison's job tougher.

"I would think that if there ever is going to be a school district that is going to be totally run by an organization such as Edison, it has to take complete control of the district, everything," he said.

Within 90 days of starting to run the schools - on
Sept. 11, 2001 - Edison knew it faced heavy losses, said Richard O'Neill, the company's top-ranking official in Chester. He said financial records and enrollment projections from the district were not accurate.

The company decided to stay because
Chester provided one of the nation's first examples of a state's taking over a district and employing a company to fix it, O'Neill said.

"If you look at state intervention as a line of new business, it had strategic value, and we were prepared to take financial losses as well as to honor the original spirit of the five-year engagement," he said.

Persing, chairman of the Board of Control at the time, said he found it hard to believe
Edison lost as much money as it says. He also denied that the district somehow misled Edison about enrollment.

"We gave them the numbers that were enrolled in the district schools, we gave them the numbers enrolled in the charter schools," he said. "Their contention was that when they put together their wonderful curriculum, they would bring back kids from charters and parochial schools. They thought students would flock back, but it didn't happen."

Many were rooting for
Edison to succeed.

"It was my personal hope that they would use Chester as a laboratory," said Charles Gray, a community activist who was on the Board of Control that brought the company in. "Give it a couple of years here, they could have turned this district around and taken it to market, to larger districts around the country."

Gov. Tom Ridge and other legislative leaders, unwilling to simply pour more state aid into an impoverished district, hoped that Chester Upland would be a shining example of the value of private management. And the people of Chester Upland hoped the experiment would provide them with the things they and their children did not have: state-of-the-art technology, small classes, better trained teachers.

All of those hopes were dashed.

"
Edison had promised it would offer a second language starting in elementary school, they promised technology for those who didn't have technology in the home; that never happened," said Portia West, who initially opposed privatization but later spoke up for Edison. "They made promises they didn't keep."

Still, she said, "I loved the curriculum that they had. My daughter did extremely well in fourth grade when
Edison came in."

In hindsight, too many things went wrong.

"The district controlled too many things that were directly related to instruction for us to be successful: personnel, security, maintenance, technology," O'Neill said. It could hire and fire teachers, and many of them declined to attend company-run professional development sessions.

The three-member Board of Control that ran the district had wanted competition for school management and initially awarded contracts to three companies after each had made presentations at community meetings.

But when the dust settled,
Edison bought out one of the companies, Learn Now, while the other, Mosaica, pulled out.

As a result, both sides agree, the board and the district administration came to regard
Edison as an adversary, not a partner in improving learning. Things got so bad, Edison officials said, that maintenance workers refused to move books and materials from storage rooms to classrooms.

Juan Baughn, who grew up in
Chester, worked for Learn Now and then became Edison's first chief operating officer, said, "The community felt that Edison came in arrogantly. I also think that people would have been much more receptive if Mosaica and Learn Now had still been a part of the picture. I think they saw it as Big Brother bullying the little kids."

Founded by Whittle in 1992 as a private company,
Edison went public in 1999. But its stock price plummeted after the company received a contract in Philadelphia that was not as large as expected, and Whittle and the stockholders took it private in November 2003.

Mark Jackson, an analyst for EduVentures Inc., said
Edison's losses in Chester do not "put Edison at risk financially."

Since going private, he said, the company had done well by diversifying services and products it offers to districts.

"The expectations for profit in whole-school management that existed in the [privatization] movement... is not nearly as attractive as it was in the early days," he said. "It's laden with obstacles."

Chester Upland is searching for a new superintendent and school principals, even as it tries to deal with a charter school population that is still growing.

Edison's chief supporter in Chester Upland, former Pennsylvania Education Secretary Charles Zogby, said he was disappointed.

"Bringing in a management company, I thought we'd be bringing in the necessary capacity to really operate the schools as they needed to be. Obviously, not all of it went according to plan."

What will work in
Chester now? "That's a good question, I truly don't know," Zogby said.
 
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Va., Md. Get Slack On 'No Child' Rules
Changes Could Head Off Penalties for Some Schools
By Rosalind S. Helderman and Nick Anderson,
Washington Post Staff Writers, 6/16/05

Federal regulators have granted
Virginia and Maryland new flexibility in enforcing the No Child Left Behind educational standards -- changes that could keep some schools from facing sanctions later this year.

In
Virginia, the move ended five months of conflict between state and federal education officials over how best to apply the complex law in the commonwealth, but it did not satisfy Board of Education President Thomas M. Jackson Jr., who had asked that the state be exempt from even more of the requirements.

In a statement, he called the federal decision "at best, halting progress" and said the U.S. Department of Education "continues on a course that undercuts support for [No Child Left Behind] . . . and encourages confrontation."

State officials in
Maryland, who have been less critical of the law, said yesterday that they also have won permission from the federal government to loosen slightly their school accountability rules. Ronald A. Peiffer, Maryland's deputy superintendent for academic policy, welcomed the change. "If you're going to have an accountability system, you have to have it measured accurately and fairly," he said.

No Child Left Behind requires that students take math and reading tests each year in grades 3 through 8 and in high school. By 2014, all students must be proficient. Until then, schools must show they are making adequate yearly progress.

Test scores for groups of students, including racial minorities, low-income students, children learning English and those in special education classes, are published separately and also must rise. Schools that do not show progress for two consecutive years face such sanctions as allowing parents to transfer their children at the district's expense.

In January,
Virginia's Board of Education asked for waivers from 10 areas of the law, and it has since asked for two more. Monday, the U.S. department granted four of those requests, state officials said. Five others were rejected and three are still under review.

Virginia's new flexibility comes in the complex formula for deciding whether schools and school districts are making yearly progress. One of the most significant changes give credit to students who fail a state Standards of Learning exam but then pass an exam in the same subject. A request to count the second tests had been denied in the past.

Maryland's change comes in the issue of testing special education students. It will allow educators in some cases to exclude some of disabled-student test scores when judging whether schools are making adequate yearly progress.

Virginia educators and politicians have been among the most vocal in a national outcry that No Child Left Behind has been a costly and confusing federal burden for local schools. The state's General Assembly voted in February to study how much federal funding the state would lose if it were to withdraw from participation entirely, a step that has been explored in other states.

In his statement,
Jackson complained that Virginia has waited too long for answers, especially because some of the requests were similar to those already granted to other states. Texas and Oregon both learned in 2004, for instance, that they would be permitted to allow students take tests more than once and count only their best score.

"This continued disrespect toward a state that has faithfully implemented the No Child Left Behind Act of 2001 is bewildering," he wrote.

Susan Aspey, a spokeswoman for the
U.S. department, responded that regulators "spent a great deal of time working with the state's education leaders, so these claims are perplexing at best."

As complaints about the law have mounted, negotiations between the states and the federal department have been intense, especially since Secretary of Education Margaret Spellings announced in April that she was looking for ways to give states new flexibility.,

"She's doing a balancing act," said Jack Jennings, president and chief executive of the Center on Education Policy and a supporter of the law. "How far must she go to relieve political pressure without giving away the essence of the federal law?"
 
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Military recruiters draw fire at schools
By Maryclaire Dale, Associated Press Writer,
6/17/05 

PHILADELPHIA --Nancy Carroll didn't know schools were giving military recruiters her family's contact information until a recruiter called her 17-year-old granddaughter.

That didn't sit well with Carroll, who believes recruiters unfairly target minority students. So she joined activists across the country who are urging families to notify schools that they don't want their children's contact information given out.

"People of color who go into the military are put on the front line," said the 67-year-old Carroll, who is black.

A provision of President Bush's No Child Left Behind Act requires school districts to provide military recruiters with student phone numbers and addresses or risk losing millions in federal education funding. Parents or students 18 and over can "opt out" by submitting a written request to keep the information private.

But critics say schools do not always convey that message. In
New Mexico, the American Civil Liberties Union chapter sued the Albuquerque Public School District last month, charging it does not adequately inform parents of the opt-out provision.

Some critics oppose the federal law on privacy grounds, but others say it provides an unfair opportunity for the military to sway young minds -- especially in economically depressed communities.

"They're not going to all the schools. They're going to the schools where they figure the kids will have less chance to go to college," said U.S. Rep. Jim McDermott, D-Wash. "It's an insidious kind of draft, quite frankly."

Carroll, who is raising three grandchildren in a working-class neighborhood of
Philadelphia, agrees that the practice is unfair. "I wouldn't want them to join" the military, she said of her grandchildren.

But Pentagon officials say the military deserves the same access to students that schools give to colleges and employers.

"In the past, it was all too common for a school district to make student directory information readily available to vendors, prospective employers and post-secondary institutions while intentionally excluding the services," Air Force Lt. Col. Ellen Krenke, a Pentagon spokeswoman, said in an e-mail.

As military conflicts in
Iraq and Afghanistan drag on, the Army, Navy, Air Force and Marines are having trouble attracting recruits to their reserve forces, though only the Army is falling short in attracting people for its active-duty ranks.

Andrew Rinaldi, a senior at
Edison High School in Edison, N.J., filed an opt-out letter with his school but said he was contacted by a recruiter anyway. He said the recruiter mocked his pacifist views. "They're becoming more aggressive," he said.

None of the nation's approximately 22,600 high schools has failed to comply with the military provision of No Child Left Behind, and just one is "finalizing its compliance," Krenke said. None has lost funding.

Before No Child Left Behind was signed into law in 2002, about 12 percent of the nation's schools refused to turn over student records to military recruiters, Pentagon officials said. U.S. Sen. David Vitter, R-La., who sponsored the recruitment provision, called the actions of those schools "offensive."

Now, activists are holding rallies and awareness campaigns to make sure students know they can opt out.

In left-leaning
Montclair, N.J., more than 80 percent of Montclair High School students have opted out since a student-led effort began last year.

"It's a place where military recruiters are not likely to have a ton of success, anyway, partly because ... a lot of parents can assist their kids with going to college," school district spokeswoman Laura Federico said.

In the urban blight of
North Philadelphia, Joshua Gordy said the lure of college money led him to join the Army reserves at age 17. Recruiters at his high school told him he could earn $35,000 for college, he said.

That hasn't happened. Gordy, a 20-year-old reservist, said he apparently failed to send in the right paperwork in time. He hopes to enroll in community college this fall.

McDermott, a psychiatrist, faults the military for enticing students with talk of patriotism, adventure and college funds, instead of giving them a realistic view of combat.

McDermott is among those in Congress trying to change the law so that students instead "opt-in" for recruitment.

"There's nothing dishonorable with serving in the military," said McDermott, a psychiatrist who served stateside during
Vietnam. "But it ought to be done with your eyes open."
 
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Kansas legal battles threaten to keep schools closed
AP, 6/16/05
 
TOPEKA, Kansas -- Still smarting from a fight over evolution, Kansas schools now face an almost unthinkable possibility: They might not reopen in the fall because of a political and legal battle over education funding.

The Kansas Supreme Court has ordered legislators to provide millions more in aid to schools by July 1. Gov. Kathleen Sebelius has called a special legislative session for June 22 to act on the order.

Some Republicans who control the Legislature want to defy the court, arguing it cannot tell them exactly what to spend on anything. Their tough talk has educators and others worried the court will order schools to remain closed until legislators comply.

Such orders have been issued or threatened in other states, and a
Kansas judge even told the state last year that it could not spend a penny on its schools until legislators fixed the funding system, a decision that would have kept classrooms closed -- and 445,000 students at home -- had the Supreme Court not put it on hold.

"It truly does seem to me to be the natural consequence," said Dan Biles, an attorney for the State Board of Education.

Such a development would represent another embarrassment for the
Kansas school system, which was ridiculed around the country in 1999 when the state school board deleted most references to evolution. The school system later reversed course. But now it is likely to adopt new science standards that are critical of evolution.

Michele Henry, a
Topeka mother of two daughters, ages 7 and 9, said legislators need to provide enough money for schools.

"Other people are not allowed not to do their jobs," said Henry, who is the president of the parent-teacher organization at her daughters' school. "Their job is to fund education programs for our children."

The Supreme Court's directive June 3 came in a six-year-old lawsuit from
Dodge City and Salina, where parents and administrators claimed Kansas spends too little money on education and distributes its aid unfairly, shortchanging poor children, minorities and struggling students.

In January, the Supreme Court said legislators had failed to do their duty under the Kansas Constitution to provide a suitable education for all children. But the justices were not specific about a fix.

GOP leaders pushed through a plan to increase state school aid by $142 million, or about 5 percent, while avoiding the tax increases that Sebelius and other Democrats saw as necessary.

The high court said that the plan was inadequate and that the increase for the next school year must be $285 million, or 10 percent. The court also said it could order much larger spending increases in the future.

The governor and legislators received new, more optimistic revenue projections this week, which they said eliminated the need to consider an immediate tax increase.

Kansas' Republican legislators, particularly conservatives, were furious with the court when it ruled and remained so even after the good fiscal news.

"I think it's high time we confronted the court," said Rep. Frank Miller. "One thing we could do is just refuse to obey."

Such rhetoric has some educators worried about the next school term.

"Families organize their lives around the school system," said Andrea Ewert, a counselor at
Hutchinson High School. "When school is in session, children don't only have breakfast here but lunch here, and in many elementary schools, there are after-school programs to keep them in a safe environment."

In a similar dispute in
New York state, a master appointed by the state's highest court recently said New York City's schools need an additional $5.6 billion over the next four years. In New Jersey in 1976, the state's highest court ordered schools to remain closed, successfully forcing legislators to improve funding. Threats from high courts in Arizona and Texas compelled legislators in those states to do the same.

"That is a remedy that clearly is within the court's power," said Michael Rebell, executive director of the Campaign for Fiscal Equity, which sued over
New York City's education funding. "The threat is usually very effective."

The
Kansas court has not said what it would do if lawmakers defied the order.

"I would just as soon not learn the answer to that question," said Senate Majority Leader Derek Schmidt, a Republican.
 
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Deadline extended for teacher aides
Aides receive extra time to become highly qualified
AP,
6/16/05
 
WASHINGTON -- Teacher aides, under federal pressure to prove they are qualified to stay in the classroom, will get extra time to comply under a new Education Department policy.

To keep their jobs, aides in schools that receive federal poverty aid have been told to become highly qualified by January 2006 -- marking four years since Congress passed the No Child Left Behind law. That deadline, set in the law, applies to aides hired before the law passed.

Now the time frame for aides to get qualified will be pushed back to the end of the 2005-06 school year, the same deadline for teachers in poor schools to prove their qualifications.

Deputy Secretary Ray Simon said Wednesday it was unusual to have a deadline for aides that fell in the middle of the school year and that differed from the teachers' deadline.

In a letter to Rep. Mike Simpson, R-Idaho, who sought the extended deadline, Simon said the idea was reasonable and he confirmed his agency would give aides the extra time.

Simpson said he was grateful for the change.

The American Federation of Teachers, whose members include instructional aides, had also sought the change in a letter to Education Secretary Margaret Spellings. The union's president, Edward McElroy, said it was "simply a matter of fairness."

To be deemed highly qualified, aides, or paraprofessionals, must compile at least two years of college study or earn at least an associate's degree. Their other option is to pass a test proving their knowledge of reading, writing and math and their ability to help teach.

Newly hired aides must have such qualifications before they can get the jobs.

Overall, roughly 1 million teacher aides help run the nation's classrooms. They work with students individually, reinforce the teacher's lessons and help keep order in class.
 
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FROM “EDUCATION WEEK”

Education Dept. Issues Guidance on Tutoring
By Catherine Gewertz, Education Week, 6/14/05

The U.S. Department of Education on June 13 urged states to make sure that private companies and groups offering tutoring under the No Child Left Behind Act are not engaging in unfair business practices.
 
In new, nonregulatory guidance about how states and districts should implement the “supplemental educational services” portion of the federal law, the Education Department says states are obligated to ensure that tutoring providers don’t advertise falsely about their programs, or offer kickbacks to people who encourage parents to choose their services. The 55-page document suggests that states also develop policies governing the circumstances under which private providers can use incentives to boost enrollment, maintain attendance, or reward student achievement.

The guidance was issued after many requests by states, districts, and tutoring providers for clarification on their roles and duties under the law. Schools that fail to make adequate yearly progress, or AYP, on student achievement for three consecutive years must offer free tutoring to low-income children using part of their districts’ federal Title I money. Some districts and states have been scolded informally by Education Department officials for stepping beyond, or not fully embracing, their responsibilities in offering tutoring.

The new document—the first written update of guidance on supplemental services since August 2003—outlines what states, districts, and providers should and shouldn’t do to ensure tutoring is handled well. Much of the guidance has already been made public, piece by piece, in the department’s responses to states or districts in specific situations.

For instance, the guidance clarifies that districts that have been serving as tutoring providers, and are then deemed to themselves be in need of improvement, may not finish out the school year as providers, but must cease the services as soon as possible.
Chicago has clashed with federal officials over that issue. ("Chicago Resisting Federal Directive on NCLB Tutoring," Jan. 5, 2005.)

Federal officials advise states to tell districts about their AYP status before the start of the school year to avoid having them begin as tutors and risk having to stop midyear. State should consider using preliminary AYP data if necessary to make that deadline is met, the guidance says.

The guidance offers other cautions for districts. Districts can’t refuse to let a state-approved provider serve their students, nor can they evaluate a provider’s effectiveness. Only the state may judge program design and evaluate providers, the guidance states.
 
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Districts Add Web Courses for Summer
Students Cite Convenience of Online Education
By Rhea R. Borja, Education Week, 6/15/05

Students in
Tennessee’s Hamilton County schools won’t trudge to classrooms in the syrupy July heat for summer school. Instead, they can boot up a computer at home or almost any place else with an Internet connection and take classes online.

The summer Web-based classes will supplant the 40,000-student district’s traditional summer school courses, according to a district official.

More and more school districts, as well as for-profit companies and nonprofit organizations, are offering Internet-based summer classes in core subjects, such as algebra and reading, and electives such as creative writing.

The logistical ease of “anytime, anywhere” learning, the courses’ relatively low cost to parents, and the increased need for students to meet state academic standards are some of the reasons online summer enrollment is continuing to rise, school and company officials say.

“Students don’t have to go to school, they don’t have to put on [school] clothes, and the teacher can sit with a cup of coffee or with a baby on her knee while [she teaches],” said Charlene Becker, the director of instruction for secondary schools for the Hamilton County district, which includes the city of Chattanooga.

The district charges students $185 for each summer course. Students eligible for free school lunches can take the online courses for free, and students who receive reduced-price lunches get 50 percent off.

Enrollment ‘Explosion’

The Orlando-based
Florida Virtual School is on track to triple its student enrollment, from about 4,000 last summer to 12,000 this summer, said Julie E. Young, the president of the state-sponsored public online school. Another 12,000 students remain on a waiting list.

“It’s an explosion,” Ms. Young said. “Last year, we really started to open up the summer to a broader audience. We realized the demand for it.”

Meanwhile, summer enrollment may rise 50 percent for the
Virtual High School, a nonprofit organization in Maynard, Mass., that teaches about 6,000 students in 29 states and 23 countries. Students find they must take or retake a course to stay on track for graduation, or they want to free up a period in the coming school year for an elective course, said Sandra P. Rowe, the global-services director for the school.

The summer students, Ms. Rowe said, are an even mix of those who take the courses for credit recovery and those who take them primarily for enrichment.

In addition, more schools themselves, not just parents, are paying for students to take the online classes, Ms. Rowe said. That way, she pointed out, school officials don’t have to deal with the logistical headaches of providing summer school. And families who travel in the summer find the online courses better suited to their lifestyles.

“We’re getting a lot more [student] registrations, and we’re getting them earlier,” she said. “The idea of taking a class online is not a flimsy solution anymore. It’s a solid option.”

Susan D. Patrick, the director of educational technology for the U.S. Department of Education, said the increasing popularity of online summer school reflects the overall growth of distance education.

“If you think about 10 years ago, there were almost no classes done online,” she said. “But in 2002-03, 36 percent of school districts had students in distance education classes, and 72 percent of those districts continue to expand [these] options.”

Will Williams, a student at
Georgia’s Harris County High School, broke his leg trying to skateboard down a hill over spring break last year. Immobilized for months, the then-sophomore took a U.S. history course through the Virtual High School last summer so he would stay on track to graduate with his class in 2006.

The difficulty level of the online course was “about the same” as that of a traditional class, said Mr. Williams. But the commitment level is higher.

“You have to be driven because it’s not a face-to-face thing,” he said.

His mother, Robin Williams-McCormack, said she expected a little more guidance than her son received, but added that the $400 price tag was “well worth it.”

The school year schedule for 17-year-old Dianne de la Veaux is jam-packed. At the private
Wilmington Friends School in Wilmington, Del., she’s on the cross-country team, acts in school musicals, and is on the yearbook and newspaper staffs. She also works part time.

So she decided to take an online U.S. history course this summer from the Virtual High School, said her mother, Paulette de la Veaux.

“This is her one chance to fit this class into her schedule,” Ms. de la Veaux said of her daughter.

Students who need to polish their reading and math skills are also a big contingent of online summer school attendees. Baltimore-based Catapult Learning Inc., which serves more than 150 school districts, offers real-time online tutoring to students who need remedial help. The company has grown from working with a handful of districts in the summer to “a good number” of them, according to company officials, who would not disclose the actual number of districts it serves in the summer.

A Private Way

Districts can use leftover Title I supplemental-educational-services money for online summer school remedial classes, said Jeffrey H. Cohen, the president of Catapult Learning, a subsidiary of for-profit Educate Inc., also based in Baltimore.

“The summer is a great way to attack particular challenges,” said Mr. Cohen. “For students who are far behind and don’t want to get tutored in a group because they find it stigmatizing, this is a private way.”

Participation in Achieve 3000 Inc.’s “Summer Success” program has mushroomed from two schools in 2003 to some 200 school districts this summer. The Lakewood, N.J.-based company offers individualized Web-based instruction in reading comprehension, writing, and vocabulary.

“Summer is the time to see tremendous [academic] growth,” said Saki Dodelson, the chief executive officer of Achieve 3000.
 
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Head Start Has ‘Modest’ Impact, Study Says
Bush Administration, Program Advocates Spar Over Research Report
By Michelle R. Davis, Education Week, 6/14/05

A report released last week on the first year of a comprehensive study of Head Start showed that the federal preschool program had a modest impact on participating children in the areas of cognitive development, emotional and social well-being, and health.

The study’s data, however, are being interpreted in significantly different ways. The Department of Health and Human Services, which oversees Head Start, said the results showed that most of the program’s pupils and its graduates continue to lag behind their peers.

But the National Head Start Association, an advocacy group representing Head Start parents and teachers, crowed over the study’s results, saying they showcased the 40-year-old program’s effectiveness.

“You can look at these findings and either conclude that the glass is half empty or half full,” said Wade F. Horn, the Health and Human Services Department’s assistant secretary for children and families.

The study, released June 9 and conducted by Westat, a
Rockville, Md., research company on behalf of the HHS Department, followed 5,000 3- and 4-year-olds beginning in the fall of 2002.

Some of the children entered local Head Start programs for the first time, while the rest were enrolled in non-Head Start preschool programs in their communities. The study compared the progress of the two groups on a variety of factors that ranged from their academic progress to the quality of their health care. The monitoring will continue through 2006, following the children through the spring of 1st grade.

The first-year results found that 3-year-olds in Head Start got the most benefits from the program, which serves about 900,000 poor children nationwide. But 4-year-olds entering the program for the first time also showed some benefits.

Results found that both 3- and 4-year-olds, compared with the preschool pupils not enrolled in Head Start, had small to moderate improvements in pre-reading, pre-writing, vocabulary, and parental reports of children’s literacy skills. But neither age group showed a significant improvement in oral comprehension or early math skills.

Three-year-olds also saw a decrease, compared with the non-Head Start group, in behavior problems such as hyperactivity and in their health status, including a moderate increase in the dental care they received.

The 3-year-olds’ parents were found to have small improvements in what the study characterized as their parenting skills. The study found that parents increased the number of times they read to their children and decreased the frequency of spanking their children.

While a moderate number of 4-year-olds received more professional dental care, and the research revealed slight gains in the number of times their parents read to them, 4-year-olds did not show improvement in various other areas cited in the study, such as behavior problems, vocabulary, and general health status.

The researchers found no significant gains for either 3- or 4-year-olds in early math learning, oral comprehension, or social competencies, including the ability to interact with peers and teachers. The report cautions, however, that it “provides only a partial set of preliminary indicators.”

Future reports will look at other factors such as whether the Head Start group was in a full- or partial-day program.

Reauthorization Pending

In a statement, the Health and Human Services Department said that despite the gains shown in several areas, Head Start programs are not closing the gap between poor children and the general population.

 “There’s room for improvement,” Mr. Horn said in an interview. “We see this as evidence that we can do a better job.” But Sarah M. Greene, the president of the Alexandria, Va.-based National Head Start Association, said the study showed “very good progress” for the program.

“Sure they still have a ways to go, … but it is having a positive impact,” she said of the Head Start program overall. The fact that 3-year-olds saw more of an improvement, she said, “shows the younger the children [are] exposed to the program, the better the result.”

She contended that the Bush administration’s less rosy interpretation of the report “follows a pattern … of trying to twist everything into a very negative situation when that isn’t the case.”

The NHSA and the administration have been at odds over the Head Start program for several years. They’ve battled over a failed administration plan to move the program to the Department of Education and over the effectiveness of the National Reporting System the administration put in place to evaluate how much Head Start students were learning. ("Criticism Over New Head Start Testing Program Mounts,"
January 14, 2004.)

The $6 billion preschool program is also in the middle of a Congressional reauthorization, with both the House and Senate education committees having approved bills. Ms. Greene said the association remains concerned about provisions that would limit parental involvement in the program.

But Mr. Horn said that the Head Start group wanted to safeguard the program itself, without regard to whether it is effective.

“What concerns me most about the NHSA stance over the last four years is that they seem to be … unwilling to entertain the idea that the Head Start program could be improved,” he said. “My allegiance, frankly, is not to the Head Start program, but to the children in it.”
 
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House Panel Turns Down Bush’s High School Agenda
By Erik W. Robelen, Education Week, 6/15/05

Washington - Some of President Bush’s top education priorities—especially his plans for improving the nation’s high schools—are rebuffed in a spending bill making its way through the Republican-controlled House of Representatives.

The House measure, approved by an appropriations subcommittee last week, would inch up the current discretionary budget for the Department of Education by $118 million, to a total of $56.7 billion, or by less than 1 percent, in fiscal 2006. While Democrats were quick to denounce the bill’s education figures, the proposed amount for the department was nearly $650 million more than the president’s request for the coming budget year.

Lawmakers ponied up none of the $1.5 billion Mr. Bush requested for a new High School Intervention program and new high school testing. They also fell well short of his asking price in some other areas, from the Title I program for disadvantaged students to an adolescent-literacy program Mr. Bush hoped to dramatically scale up.

The subcommittee did go along with the president’s plans to create a Teacher Incentive Fund under the spending bill, which covers the departments of Labor, Health and Human Services, and Education. That program, which Mr. Bush first proposed during his 2004 re-election campaign, would reward effective teachers and offer incentives to attract qualified teachers to high-need schools. But here, too, House lawmakers didn’t come close to Mr. Bush’s request. He wanted $500 million; they have proposed $100 million.

‘Very Tough Decisions’

The spending measure won approval June 9 on a voice vote. Only one of the subcommittee’s 17 members, Rep. David R. Obey of
Wisconsin, the ranking Democrat, called out “nay” when it came time to vote, though other Democrats made plain their displeasure with the bill.

The next step for the legislation is action by the full Appropriations Committee, then consideration on the House floor.

“[W]e had to make some very tough decisions,” Rep. Ralph Regula, R-Ohio, the chairman of the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Labor, Health and Human Services, and Education, said at the outset of the panel’s meeting last week. “Every one of these programs touches the lives of people in one way or another. … Our job is to set priorities within the constraints of the amount of money we have.”

Rep. Obey complimented the chairman for his efforts, but blamed the GOP leadership in Congress and President Bush for circumstances—especially the enactment of recent tax cuts—that he says led to the situation.

“[T]his bill didn’t get here by immaculate conception,” he said at the subcommittee meeting. “This bill is here as the direct result of previous actions.”

Mr. Obey highlighted his concerns with federal spending in a variety of areas, including education.

The two largest K-12 programs, both of which have seen relatively aggressive growth in recent years, would get only slight upward bumps under the House bill. Title I would increase by just $100 million, or less than 1 percent, to $12.7 billion. Special education state grants would grow by $150 million, or 1.4 percent, to $10.7 billion.

A Few Cuts

The White House plan, issued in February, would cut overall Education Department spending for the first time in a decade. Mr. Bush’s plan for fiscal 2006, which begins Oct. 1, would lower the agency’s discretionary budget by $530 million, or nearly 1 percent, to $56 billion. The proposal calls for abolishing 48 programs in the department. ("Cuts Proposed in Bush Budget Hit Education,"
February 16, 2005.)

President Bush has especially highlighted his new initiatives for high schools. But in a tight fiscal climate, Congress appears unlikely to fund his core priorities there: more testing and a pricey new intervention fund for high schools. Mr. Bush may not have helped matters by proposing to pay for those programs by seeking the elimination of funding for programs under the Carl D. Perkins Vocational and Technical Education Act, which has many friends on Capitol Hill.

Not only did the House subcommittee decline to abolish vocational funding—it froze spending at roughly $1.3 billion—but it also did not agree to kill many other programs Mr. Bush targeted, from state grants under the Safe and Drug-Free Schools and Communities Program, to civic education, to the Even Start family-literacy program, to education technology state grants.

Not every education program escaped the scalpel. The House bill echoes Mr. Bush’s plans to eliminate an $11 million program for the education of gifted and talented students, $18 million for foreign-language assistance, and $5 million for dropout prevention.

The creation of a $100 million Teacher Incentive Fund caught the eye of some GOP leaders, who praised the action last week.

“I support President Bush’s call for incentives that reward dedicated teachers who demonstrate success in the classroom,” Rep. John A. Boehner, R-Ohio, the chairman of the House Education and the Workforce Committee, said in a June 9 press release.

Promises to Keep?

Democrats spoke at length during the appropriations subcommittee meeting about the No Child Left Behind Act, citing their frustration that funding levels are falling further below those authorized under the law. In fact, a House budget document says total spending for programs included in the federal school law, which it placed at $24.6 billion, would decline by some $800 million next year under the House bill.

Rep. Obey is apparently contemplating a dramatic response.

“I’m rapidly arriving at the point where I think that if we are not going to meet the financial obligations that we indicated the federal government would meet when we passed No Child Left Behind, then we ought to repeal the mandates,” he said. Mr. Obey said he intended to offer an amendment that would do so during the full committee action, which is scheduled for June 16.

Republicans argue that the law’s authorization levels don’t reflect a spending promise, noting that Congress often does not fully fund programs at the levels authorized.

“I want to give members time to think about this before we actually proceed,” Mr. Obey said. “I can nolonger go home and defend No Child Left Behind if we don’t follow up the dollars that we promised to provide.”

Meanwhile, the subcommittee plan would eliminate $23 million in funding for the Ready-to-Learn Television program, which helps fund such educational shows as “
Sesame Street” and “Postcards from Buster.” It would also greatly reduce funding for the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.
 
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Keeping Overage Students in H.S. Proves Tough
By Catherine Gewertz, Education Week, 6/15/05

Cleveland - The teenager walks into the empty classroom and crams his lanky frame into a desk. Three teachers, the high school psychologist, and the principal sit in a circle around him. This 17-year-old 10th grader knows he’s been summoned here because his classwork has been slipping.

What he doesn’t know is that he’s part of an expanding national effort to keep students like him—who are overage for their grades—from slipping away from school altogether. The creation of this
Cleveland program five years ago reflects a growing national awareness that overage students are far more likely to drop out than those who progress with their peers.

“We want you to pass. We want you to do better,” says Karen Scebbi, the psychologist. “I believe you want that, too.”

Silent, the young man fidgets. He can’t explain why he raps and jokes in class more often than he completes his work. Nearly grown and only a sophomore, he had fallen so far behind at his neighborhood school that he came here to the Options Complex at Margaret A. Ireland School to catch up. But his teachers are worried.

“We’re losing you,” says English teacher Dan Timko. “We need to know what we can do to keep you.”

Hanging onto kids who might otherwise leave school is the mission of the Options Complex, a program for students in grades 6-12 who are behind in school by two or more years. Much of the concern about dropout rates has focused on improving high schools. But experts say that struggling middle schoolers, a too-often-overlooked group, are likely to flounder in 9th grade and stop attending school.

“The best way to improve high schools is to salvage the middle school experience,” said John M. Beam, the executive director of the
National Center for Schools and Communities at Fordham University. “Something’s happening in middle school. That’s ultimately where the policy fix may need to be.”

Intervening Early
 
The
Alliance for Excellent Education, a Washington advocacy organization, released figures this month showing that 28 percent of the nation’s 8th graders are at risk of dropping out of high school because of poor reading skills. Students who enter high school reading poorly are 20 times more likely to drop out than their highest-achieving classmates, the group said.

The Philadelphia Education Fund and
Johns Hopkins University reported in a recent study that four risk factors among 6th graders make dropping out likely: failing either English or mathematics, attending school less than 80 percent of the time, or receiving poor marks for behavior.

“The field is definitely starting to look at younger kids,” said Robert Balfanz, a Johns Hopkins research scientist and a co-author of the report. “The idea is, if we can identify the kids who might fall off the graduation track earlier on, we might be able to intervene more effectively.”

Accordingly, some school districts are making a special effort to reach middle schoolers who are overage for their grade. Recognizing that they can teeter on dropping out for varying reasons—frequent moves, a need to work after school, difficulty learning English, academic troubles, family crises, chronic misbehavior—districts are offering a portfolio of approaches rather than a fixed route.

The
New York City department of education is working with community groups to expand options for overage students as part of an approach it calls “multiple pathways to graduation.”

Some of the
New York City programs are geared to teenagers who fell behind in high school, and others to older students with more serious life issues who need to complete their credits in the evening. Both kinds provide personalized, intensive support.

Educators are also stepping up literacy instruction for struggling readers in middle schools.
New York also is opening many small high schools that are intended to provide better learning environments for adolescents, said Michele Cahill, a senior adviser on education to Schools Chancellor Joel I. Klein.

“The thinking used to be, ‘We have a large, comprehensive high school on this schedule, and you have to fit into it,’ ” Ms. Cahill said. “Now, we start with where the kids are, set demanding standards, and plan what we need in the system to get them there.”

Cincinnati’s 9-year-old program for overage middle schoolers features classes of 15 to 18 students, an accelerated curriculum, and after-school tutors. Seeing 95 percent of each 8th grade group complete the program and move on to high school has convinced Principal Joseph Porter of the program’s value.

“If kids are held back a year or two, [and] they’re sitting in a 5th grade class and they’re 13, their self-esteem goes down. They’re frustrated. There are going to be behavior problems,” said Mr. Porter, the principal of Lafayette Bloom Back on
Track Middle School. “They need to be with kids their own age.”

Doing Things Differently

Dallas has expanded its “reconnection centers” for overage high school students downward to serve middle schoolers after officials noticed that many middle school students were too old for their grades.

“I looked at the data and knew we had to do something differently,” said H.B. Bell,
Dallas’ associate superintendent for dropout prevention. “The numbers were astounding.”

Philadelphia has opened three new high schools for overage students with too few credits, and has begun an accelerated pilot program for about 170 overage middle school students.

Cleveland’s program, which also includes two other schools for overage middle school students, began when the district’s chief executive officer, Barbara Byrd-Bennett, noticed that the 9th grade had the largest group of children too old for their grade.

The district also offers programs for high school students who are overage, or have returned after dropping out. Most end in a regular high school diploma rather than an equivalency credential.

“We need to give these kids the instruction and the diploma they need to compete in society,” Ms. Byrd-Bennett said. “If in fact you create what have been traditionally called ‘alternative schools,’ you’re essentially tracking a subculture.”

The Options Complex’s 175 students have fallen behind at their regular schools because they’ve failed grades. Once they transfer, they work on an accelerated curriculum designed to catch them up with their peers. Then they can return to their former schools or stay on to graduate. Most stay. Some still fall off the radar screen.

The teaching approach is informal and emphasizes active engagement—a recognition that many students have had difficulty connecting with their schoolwork.

A recent day in Algebra 1, for example, finds middle schoolers working with plastic pieces to fit equations together. A high school social studies teacher downstairs ignores students’ legs draped over their desks, and lets them speak out as they wish in a lively discussion about the jury system.

Students with behavior problems—a sizable portion of those at the Complex—have adult mentors in the building. Teachers draw up customized plans for getting students on track that require daily monitoring and teacher feedback. The school has one full-time psychologist for the middle school students, and another for the high school students.

With a pupil-teacher ratio of 25-to-1, the classes are smaller than those districtwide, but have grown from an average of 15 because of budget-driven staff cuts.

With 500 of the district’s nearly 16,000 middle schoolers overage this school year, the Options Complex has a waiting list. Though the district spends an average of $2,000 more on each Options student, the school was spared from a round of school closures this spring forced by a budget shortfall.

Seeing Results

Ms. Byrd-Bennett views the program as effective. According to district figures, less than 3 percent of its 6,500 9th graders are overage this year, compared with 8.5 percent in 2002-03.

Its state test scores vary—fewer than a third of the school’s 9th graders scored at the proficient level in mathematics or science last year, while more than 80 percent hit that mark in writing. The school’s scores lag behind district averages, and the proportion of students who receive disciplinary action is higher than in regular middle schools.

But it isn’t hard to find Options students who believe the program has turned their lives around. They cite as crucial the smaller classes, individualized attention, and the never-give-up attitude of their teachers.

“At my old school, there were 40 kids in my classes, and I was just getting into fights, coming back, getting behind on my work, and getting into trouble again,” said Shannon Bell, 18, who made it to 12th grade this year after being two years behind.

“Here, they break it down and make sure you understand,” he said. “You feel you belong. It’s a second chance to do something with your life instead of just act a fool.”

Some activists worry that such programs can let schools push out borderline students by “counseling” them out of regular schools.

Anne Wheelock, an independent researcher in
Boston, contends that it’s best to provide overage children with customized academic and emotional support in their regular schools. Too often, she says, separate programs use a one-size-fits-all approach that doesn’t work with children of widely varying needs.

“It also gives the mainstream school an escape hatch,” she said. “They always have in the back of their mind, ‘Oh, we can refer our overage kids to the school for overage kids,’ and they never have to do anything to stop the production of overage kids to begin with.”

But Ephraim Weisstein, a vice president of
Boston’s Commonwealth Corp., a nonprofit group that designed the Diploma Plus model used in that city for students considered at risk of dropping out, said such teenagers often need separate programs because most traditional schools cannot offer enough support. He rejects the criticism that separate schools create a subclass of students who can’t successfully re-enter the mainstream.

“Don’t we have that kind of system right now?” he said, noting that large percentages of students fall out of the school system or finish without sufficient skills for college or work. “The issue isn’t, are we creating a second-class set of schools? We have one. The issue is, what are we going to do about it?”
 
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Justices Query Lawyers in
Fla. Court Showdown over Voucher Program
By Alan Richard, Education Week, 6/15/05

Florida’s Opportunity Scholarships faced their most crucial test last week, as the state supreme court heard arguments in a case about the constitutionality of the voucher program.

In more than an hour of oral arguments in Bush v. Holmes, held June 7 in
Tallahassee and shown live on the Internet, lawyers sparred over the implications for school vouchers of language in the Florida Constitution that bars religious institutions from receiving state money.

Plaintiffs’ lawyer John M. West said that religious schools using the vouchers are involved in “the religious indoctrination of young children,” suggesting there is no way to square the program with the state constitution.

But the state’s lawyers asked the court to keep the vouchers, which they argued are no different from other common forms of public aid that go to religious colleges, hospitals, and other entities. They also stressed that the vouchers primarily help poor and minority students.

“The Opportunity Scholarship program is in aid of
Florida’s children—period,” Florida Solicitor General Christopher M. Kise said. “It’s not a clandestine way to fund religious or sectarian schools. … This program is constitutional.”

A decision in the 4-year-old lawsuit challenging the vouchers, which about 720 students statewide used to pay school tuition in 2004-05, could determine the future of vouchers in the state, and slow or fuel the growth of private school choice nationwide.


Two lower courts have ruled the Opportunity Scholarships unconstitutional, citing the state’s so-called
Blaine amendment on funding for religious institutions.

Although the U.S. Supreme Court has ruled that the
Cleveland voucher program, which includes religious schools, passes muster under the federal constitution, other state constitutions also include Blaine-style language that voucher opponents argue prohibits state tuition aid for such schooling.

Courtroom Drama

Justice Kenneth B. Bell wanted to know last week why the
U.S. high court’s 2002 decision in the Cleveland case, Zelman v. Simmons-Harris, didn’t trump the Florida Constitution. He also suggested that overturning the Florida program might show hostility toward religious institutions, which federal law prohibits.

Mr. West, a private lawyer hired to represent the plaintiffs by the Florida Education Association, responded that the state constitution’s
Blaine amendment contains “a far more specific restriction on the use of public funds than does the federal establishment clause [of the First Amendment].”

The
Florida justices weighed other factors, including whether the Opportunity Scholarships affect the state constitution’s pledge to provide a uniform public education system for all students.

Justice Harry Lee Anstead asked why the court should leave the vouchers in place. “Wouldn’t that basically, completely, undermine the system that has been provided in the [state] constitution, for the free system of public schools?” he said.

Mr. Kise argued for the state that the vouchers are designed only to help students leave the lowest-rated public schools. “That is very, very different than a wholesale abdication of the public education system,” he said.

The court hearing also focused on whether the vouchers have improved education in
Florida. “In 1999, there were 78 failing schools, and last year there were 14,” Justice Bell pointed out.

“That may be, sir, but … their assertion that that result was linked to the Opportunity Scholarship program is not supported,” Mr. West replied.

Lawyers defending the Opportunity Scholarships said last week that if the Florida Supreme Court rules the program unconstitutional under the
Blaine amendment, they will appeal the decision to the U.S. Supreme Court.

Bush v. Holmes, which takes its name from Gov. Jeb Bush, a Republican who first proposed the Opportunity Scholarships, and retired educator and teachers’ union official Ruth D. Holmes, could affect more than 25,000
Florida students’ ability to leave public schools through a variety of state-sponsored tuition programs.

Ripple Effect

The 700-plus students who used the Opportunity Scholarships in the past school year were eligible to leave public schools that had received F’s on their state report cards in two of the previous four years. Judges in the lower courts have allowed students to keep using the vouchers until the court case is settled.

If the state supreme court rules the Opportunity Scholarships unconstitutional, the state’s McKay Scholarships, which allowed 14,300 students with disabilities to attend religious or other private schools in the 2004-05 school year, likely would face an immediate legal challenge. Other
Florida school choice programs also could be at legal risk. ("Court Showdown Over Fla. Vouchers Nears," May 25, 2005.)

Florida’s Blaine amendment—a reference to James G. Blaine, the nationally prominent Maine Republican who pushed for such constitutional language in the late 1800s—says in part that “no revenue of the state … shall ever be taken from the public treasury directly or indirectly in aid of any church, sect, or religious denomination.”

Such amendments were seen as a way to keep public money from going to non-Protestant religious institutions.

A State Issue

The
Blaine amendments or similar provisions in 37 state constitutions have been challenged before.

In 1998, the Wisconsin Supreme Court ruled that its state constitution did not prohibit the
Milwaukee voucher program. ("Court Allows Vouchers in Milwaukee," June 17, 1998.)

And in 1999, the Arizona Supreme Court ruled the state’s individual-tax-credit scholarships, which rely on private donations to help finance tuition at secular and religious private schools, did not violate the state constitution. ("
Tax Credits Pass Muster In Arizona," February 3, 1999.)

But in 2004, the Colorado Supreme Court overturned that state’s vouchers, which were aimed at helping low-income students in urban areas. The suit against
Colorado’s vouchers was a Blaine-related challenge, but the ruling avoided the church-state issue, citing local-control provisions instead. ("Colo. Vouchers Now Back In Political Arena," July 14, 2004.)

Then the U.S. Supreme Court, in its 2004 Locke v. Davey decision from
Washington state, allowed state aid to religious colleges—except for scholarships to students majoring in theology. ("High Court Upholds State's Bar On Aid to Theology Majors," March 3, 2004.)

Outside the
Florida court last week, an estimated 2,500 marchers braved the Tallahassee heat and humidity to show their support for the Opportunity Scholarships and other forms of school choice in the state, voucher supporters said.

Taking Sides

Among them was Howard L. Fuller, the national board president of the Black Alliance for Educational Options and the director of the Institute for the Transformation of Learning at
Marquette University in Milwaukee.

Mr. Fuller, a former superintendent of the
Milwaukee schools, said after the march that the court should allow the voucher program to continue.

“After 15 years [in
Milwaukee], we can clearly say that people have not been indoctrinated, people have not been intimidated” if they use vouchers to attend religious schools, he said.

John McKay, a Republican and former Florida Senate president who helped enact the McKay Scholarships for students with disabilities, said if the state high court rules against the Opportunity Scholarships, he hopes state legislators will move to protect the McKay program from litigation.

“I fortunately was able to pay for private school for my daughter after a public school didn’t meet her needs,” added Mr. McKay, the father of a grown daughter who was diagnosed with learning disabilities, in an interview after the march. “We have developed an education system where only those of means have choices.”

National opponents of school vouchers also monitored last week’s arguments.

“A decision to end this voucher program and presumably other programs would be a major blow to groups who want to promote the use of public dollars in private schools across the country,” said Marc Egan, the director of the voucher strategy center for the National School Boards Association, based in
Alexandria, Va.

The court could issue a decision before most
Florida schools reopen in August.
 
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N.C. Program Holds Promise for Gifted Classes
By Christina A. Samuels, Education Week, 6/15/05

With the help of a federal grant,
North Carolina is expanding an early-childhood program it started with the goals of closing the achievement gap between minority and white students and moving underrepresented groups into education for the gifted.

Students in Project Bright IDEA, which stands for Interest Development Early Abilities, have shown growth in language arts and mathematics, state educators say. Bright IDEA began in the 2001-02 school year with 12 classrooms in six school districts and a budget of $10,000 for materials. About 1,000 students went through the pilot program over three years. Several teachers continued the program on their own during the 2004-05 school year.
 
The results were intriguing enough that the U.S. Department of Education awarded
North Carolina a five-year, $2.5 million grant through the Jacob K. Javits Gifted and Talented Students Education Program to study the approach further and expand it into classrooms in six more districts. Eventually, the project will train more than 200 teachers in 36 schools across North Carolina, who will reach more than 5,000 students in kindergarten through 2nd grade. The first full year of the federally financed research program will begin this fall.

“It’s making a difference,” said Valorie Hargett, the state consultant for the academically and intellectually gifted for the North Carolina Department of Public Instruction and a principal designer of the program. “These are schools who need help. They’re wanting to do things differently.”

Project Bright IDEA trains teachers in how to encourage the same characteristics in their students that gifted people are believed to possess, such as flexibility, persistence, and an ability to grasp larger concepts. The young students are asked to find the “big ideas” behind every lesson, are given content-rich literature, and are constantly instructed in using “intelligent behaviors.”

The goal, Ms. Hargett said, is for children to learn to go beyond the standard curriculum.

“If they’re focusing just on knowledge, they’re leaving the classroom thinking they’ve got everything,” she said. “They must leave our classrooms asking questions.”

Schools with large populations of minority students and schools receiving federal Title I aid were chosen for the pilot study. Students were not screened to enter the program, but teachers underwent extensive training.

The results have been encouraging so far.

Students were assessed using the North Carolina K-2 Assessments for Literacy and Mathematics, and they showed significant gains by the end of the school year. The students were not measured against their peers in regular classes, though that will be a part of the expanded, federally supported study.

Achievement among black and Hispanic students increased close to the levels reached by non-Hispanic white students and Asian-American students.

Nurturing Intelligence

Thomasville Primary School, in the 2,600-student Thomasville city district, decided on its own to compare Bright IDEA 2nd graders with their peers in regular classrooms. The results showed Bright IDEA students scoring in the 80th percentile in reading on the Iowa Tests of Basic Skills, compared with the 39th percentile for students who were not in the special program.

The 659-student school is almost evenly divided among Hispanic, black, and white students.

“We found out that we are nurturing all our students by doing this,” Principal Phyllis Lupton said. “Even if we have brought children who were below average to average, that’s a good thing.”

Amie Cook, a 2nd grade teacher at Thomasville Primary, has taught two classes of Bright IDEA students. The program forces teachers to think conceptually about every lesson, she said. Instead of doing a collage after reading a piece of literature, Ms. Cook said, her students may write a “letter to the editor” or engage in a debate—anything to get them thinking deeply about the work they’re doing.

Too often, schoolwork for students considered to be low-achieving focuses on drill-based instruction and memorization, she said. But the important thing, Ms. Cook said, “is not what children do when they know the answer. It’s what they do when they don’t know the answer.”

Controlled Study

Margaret Gayle, the executive director of the American Association for Gifted Children, based at Duke University in Durham, N.C., and another designer of the program, said she was looking forward to what further study of the program would bring. In the federal study, children will be compared with control groups that are not in Bright IDEA classrooms.

“We want to know if we will continue to see gains that will make the project worth all the work,” Ms. Gayle said.
 
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Dover, Pa., Board Race Takes Intelligent Design to Voters
Slates on Both Sides of Science Policy Court Residents for Fall Ballot
By
Sean Cavanagh, Education Week, 6/15/05

Dover, Pa. - Bernadette Reinking is a retired nurse, a registered Republican, and at 58, a first-time candidate for the school board. But this is no ordinary election, as the political novice is often reminded as she canvasses front porches and farmhouses for votes in this community in south-central Pennsylvania.

Some locals greet her warmly, offering promises of support on the fall ballot. Others, she has found, listen to her in stony silence, gritting their teeth, the veins in their necks bulging. A few encounters have prompted a more visceral reaction. One resident responded to her introduction by bounding around near his front doorstep, in an apparent imitation of a gorilla.

“Do you think we come from apes?” he demanded of the candidate.

“I told him he was going to have a coronary if he didn’t settle down,” Ms. Reinking recalled with a chuckle and a shake of her head. “He went over the divide.”

Such chasms may prove difficult to bridge here this summer and fall. The upcoming school board election is likely to focus squarely on Charles Darwin’s theory of evolution—and claims of alternatives to it—with results that could echo far beyond the 3,600-student
Dover Area School District.

On Nov. 8, voters will elect seven candidates to the school board from a list of 14 contenders, whose opinions on the classroom role of intelligent design are expected to dominate stump speeches and campaign ads the way property taxes and school repairs might in other years.

The agenda for this election was set last October, when the nine-member Dover school board voted 6-3 to require that high school biology students be made aware of purported flaws in Darwin’s theory and be told of intelligent design. Seven current school board members, all of whom will appear on the ballot as Republicans, are running and have campaigned in favor of the board policy.

Those incumbents will face seven opponents. At least three of those challengers are registered Republicans, though all seven will be listed on the ballot as Democrats because they finished as the top vote-getters in the Democratic primary in May, according to a group representing them, Dover CARES, or Citizens Actively Reviewing Educational Strategies.

The board’s decision angered some district teachers and drew a federal lawsuit from American Civil Liberties Union, which, like many critics, regards intelligent design as religious belief in disguise.

Similar debates over intelligent design’s place in science classes are playing out in states and school districts around the country. But while those fights have addressed the concept primarily on scientific and philosophical grounds, intelligent design may be facing its most visible grassroots political test in
Dover.

Intelligent design is the belief that natural phenomena, including human life, are too complex to have developed without the guidance of a master architect, or designer. That view contrasts with the theory of evolution as advanced in the mid-19th century by the British naturalist Darwin, who concluded that species evolve through natural selection and random mutation.

The theory of evolution—accepted by the vast majority of scientists, who stress that such a “theory” is no mere hypothesis or hunch—provides evidence of links between humans and ancestral hominids that scientists believe walked the earth millions of years ago. That picture of human origins still rankles some voters on the campaign trail, as Ms. Reinking discovered.

‘Is That All There Is?’

Ms. Reinking opposes the school board’s policy—though not, she says, intelligent design itself. She and the other members of Dover CARES define themselves as people of faith who believe intelligent design should be allowed in
Dover’s schools—just not in science class.

“When I go door to door, people want to know where I stand on intelligent design,” said Ms. Reinking. “We feel it’s a matter of the heart, and the soul, and the mind. It’s not a scientific theory.”

That view is not shared by Alan Bonsell, an auto-repair-shop owner in his fourth year on the board who said the district policy on intelligent design is routinely distorted by political opponents and the news media.

“Why wouldn’t you be for expanding kids’ science education?” Mr. Bonsell asked. “We have confidence in the people in our area. We have to find a way to get the truth out to the people, because they won’t get it in the newspaper.”

The science curriculum approved by
Dover’s board says that 9th grade biology students “will be made aware of gaps/problems in Darwin’s theory and of other theories of evolution, including, but not limited to, intelligent design.”

But Mr. Bonsell and school administrators say the policy requires only that students be given a brief introduction to the design concept, through the reading of a single statement, rather than be exposed to it throughout biology class. (That issue is a subject of dispute in the ACLU lawsuit, in which one of the Dover CARES candidates, Bryan Rehm, is a plaintiff.)

In January,
Dover school administrators read that four-paragraph statement, which says that Darwin’s theory “is not a fact,” to students after several Dover science teachers refused to do so.

“What, in that statement, is religion?” Mr. Bonsell said. “When I tell people [about the statement], they kind of look at me strange, like, ‘Is that all there is?’ ”

Other campaign issues are decidedly more local. Dover CARES has attacked the incumbents for approving property-tax increases, which averaged 6.5 percent over the past three years, district records show. But Mr. Bonsell said that the tax rate was comparable with those of surrounding school systems, and that the board has managed district dollars wisely.

Throughout the primary season, candidates sounded competing themes on yard signs, brochures, and roadside billboards, while often playing not so subtly on the evolution issue. “The ‘Intelligent’ Choice,” one roadside ad for the incumbents announced. “Quality Education With Fiscal Responsibility,” a Dover CARES display responded. “Common Sense—Common Cause.”

The election is drawing interest from outside parties. The
Pennsylvania affiliate of the National Education Association donated $2,100 through its political action committee to a PAC run by Dover CARES, records show.

Centrist Message

Yet as the nationwide debate over attempts to bring intelligent design into public school classes has grown increasingly polarized, Ms. Reinking and Dover CARES seem intent on conveying a centrist message to voters. Her group supports allowing discussion of intelligent design—in social studies, comparative religion, or similar classes, not as a biology lesson.

They explain their stance this way: Intelligent design is not credible science; teaching it in science class would violate the constitutional separation of church and state. Talking to students about it in nonscience classes, on the other hand, allows teachers to discuss the concept broadly, with less fear of a lawsuit and less worry about whether it is a legitimate topic.

“If you put it in a class where people can talk about all religions, I’m a perfectly happy woman,” Ms. Reinking said.

Dover CARES members also let it be known that they are Christians who don’t regard evolution and religion as mutually exclusive. Their spokesman, Warren M. Eshbach, is a retired pastor in the Church of the Brethren. “I don’t believe that science is antithetical to faith,” he said recently, sitting outside his farmhouse, “nor faith antithetical to science.”

But to win in November, Dover CARES will need the backing of a different flock of the faithful: Republicans. Democratic Sen. John Kerry won
Pennsylvania in the 2004 presidential election, but President Bush soundly defeated him in York County, which includes Dover.

Alluding to his group’s mix of Republicans and Democrats, Mr. Eshbach said: “We’re a bipartisan ticket.”
 
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Majority of Pa. Districts Snub Rendell Tax-Relief Plan
By Catherine Gewertz, Education Week, 6/15/05

Only 20 percent of
Pennsylvania’s school districts have chosen to take part in a plan that uses state gambling money to reduce property taxes. The low level of participation dealt a setback to Gov. Edward G. Rendell’s efforts to fulfill campaign promises.

Act 72, which became law last July, allows districts to use slot-machine proceeds to reduce local property taxes if they raise their earned income taxes by one-tenth of 1 percent and accept certain limits on local tax increases. By the May 30 deadline, only 111 of the state’s 501 districts had accepted the trade-off.

That makes it harder for Gov. Rendell to deliver on two of his major goals: cutting property taxes statewide, and shifting a greater share of education spending to the state. The Democratic governor had urged school boards to join the plan.

 “There is no doubt that there was political damage to the governor,” said G. Terry Madonna, the director of the Center for Politics and Public Affairs at
Franklin & Marshall College in Lancaster, Pa. “The question is, will it be sufficient to defeat him [in 2006]?”

In a Keystone Poll, supervised by Mr. Madonna and released last week, only 38 percent of registered voters said Gov. Rendell deserves re-election; 47 percent said it was “time for a change,” and 15 percent didn’t know. The poll of 467 registered voters had a margin of error of plus or minus 4.5 percent.

Thomas J. Gentzel, the executive director of the Pennsylvania School Boards Association, said districts spurned Act 72 for many reasons, including citizens’ opposition to raising the earned-income tax. Some, he said, believed that the projected tax relief—$190 to $330 per household on average, depending on gambling proceeds—might not justify boosting the tax on citizens’ income and having districts ask voters’ permission to raise taxes above an inflation-pegged cap, as required by Act 72.

Some advocates contended that school boards opposed Act 72 primarily because they sought to preserve their unfettered budgetary authority.

“This wasn’t about school boards protecting their power,” Mr. Gentzel said. “It was about doing the right thing, balancing the interests of the taxpayers with the need to provide education for kids.”

The Road Ahead

Gov. Rendell will continue to work with the Republican-controlled legislature to reduce property taxes, said his policy director, Donna Cooper. She said he would support imposing Act 72’s requirements on all districts, a proposal being discussed in the legislature. The Keystone Poll showed voters divided on that idea.

In the meantime, Ms. Cooper said, she worries that education advocates’ focus on Act 72 could distract them from helping push the governor’s fiscal 2006 education budget through the legislature. His proposed 3 percent hike in spending on precollegiate schooling has been questioned because it comes as high health-care costs force the state to consider cutbacks, she said.

The PSBA had contended there were many unanswered questions about Act 72, including whether districts’ share of gaming proceeds would vary depending upon how many districts participated.

Drew Crompton, chief counsel to Sen. Robert C. Jubelirer, a Republican and one of the law’s co-sponsors, said that before any distribution can be made, $400 million in gaming proceeds must be collected for a reserve fund, and another $500 million for the distribution fund.

The 111 districts that chose to participate in Act 72 would share about one-third of the amount in the distribution fund, according to a formula that assumes the participation of all 501 districts and takes into account their relative wealth and tax burdens, Mr. Crompton said. The rest is used for other purposes, including economic-development projects, he said.

Ms. Cooper noted that the law guarantees participating districts a minimum distribution—$190 on average per household if $500 million is collected in the distribution fund. If $1 billion is collected, that projected figure rises to $330.
 
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Kansas Court Orders More Aid to Schools
By David J. Hoff, Education Week, 6/15/05

Kansas lawmakers plan to return to work next week—grudgingly.

Legislative leaders scheduled a special session, to begin June 22, after the state supreme court released an opinion this month declaring that the legislature must come up with $143 million for the new school year as a first step toward fixing the state’s school finance system.

To find the money, the legislature would have to raise taxes, generate new gambling revenues, or cut funds from other programs, said Rep. Becky J. Hutchins, the Republican who chairs the House education budget committee.

But Ms. Hutchins added that the legislature could do something else: nothing.

If lawmakers take that route, the justices would have little recourse, according to one expert on the state constitution.

“If it comes right down to a direct confrontation in which the legislature is willing to disregard the rule of law, … it’s hard to know ultimately what the court can do to force the legislature into line,” said Richard E. Levy, a law professor at the University of Kansas in Lawrence.

Urgent Action

The Kansas Supreme Court’s unanimous June 3 opinion is notable for its specificity and urgency.

“Additional funding must be made available for the 2005-06 school year to assist in meeting the school districts’ immediate needs,” the court said in explaining why it was ordering an additional $143 million for next school year.

What’s more, the court warned that it might order the legislature to increase financing by an additional $568 million for the 2006-07 school year, unless the legislature completes a valid analysis of education costs by the time it appropriates money for that school year.

For 2004-05, the state spent $2.4 billion on K-12 education. If the court ordered the second year of increases, K-12 spending would rise by more than 35 percent by 2006-07.

The court based its demands for additional funding on a 2002 study by school finance experts estimating that it would cost an extra $853 million to offer the “suitable education” that the Kansas Constitution guarantees the state’s children. In coming up with that total, justices adjusted the 2002 figures for inflation and considered the funding increases that the legislature has provided since then, including the $142 million increase already appropriated for 2005-06.

The court appears to have watched finance cases in other states, where legislatures’ failure to comply with general orders from courts has meant protracted litigation and several years to produce remedies, said the lead lawyer for the
Kansas parents and school districts that sued the state.

“I think the Kansas Supreme Court has learned from the experiences of other states … to put this matter in a situation where it’s going to get resolved pretty quickly,” said Alan L. Rupe, who is based in
Wichita.

Other states haven’t completed their work on school finance decisions as quickly as the
Kansas court proposes.

For example, a
New York state case that is seeking more financing for New York City schools is still unresolved almost two years after the state’s highest court ordered the state to provide additional funds to the city. The state has appealed a trial judge’s order to increase school spending in the city by 44 percent.

In the 1990s, New Jersey wrapped up its long-running finance suit only after the state’s highest court ordered the legislature to provide an additional $250 million for the poorest districts, said David G. Sciarra, the executive director of the Newark-based Education Law Center, which represents students in that case.

“It said: ‘Provide it. Right away. We’ve had enough,’ ” he said.

Some
Kansas legislators, however, are reluctant to enact the court-ordered spending for the upcoming school year.

Rep. Hutchins suggested that the court is relying on a study that assumes schools should supply services that go far beyond what the state constitution should provide for. “Somehow, it morphed into something that the legislature did not want,” she said. The study, she said, was “all Christmas-tree-ed up.”

But Mr. Rupe said the court order was not “an unreasonable chunk of change,” given that lawmakers provided $900 million in tax relief on property and other items in the 1990s, he said.

As lawmakers in
Kansas debate how much the state should spend on schools, some there are also suggesting the state needs a new way to select its supreme court justices.

Bigger Role for Voters?

The governor now appoints justices based on recommendations of a panel composed of citizens and of lawyers who are members of the Kansas Supreme Court bar. After justices have served six years, their names are put on a statewide ballot, and voters have the opportunity to recall them. Though such a vote is held every six years for each justice, none has ever been recalled through the process.

Of the six sitting justices, four were appointed by Republican governors and two by Democrats, including one by first-term Gov. Kathleen Sebelius. The court has one vacancy.

The system doesn’t give voters enough power over their supreme court, says a Republican group lobbying to change the state constitution so supreme court justices are elected to their posts outright.

“If justices are going to rule the people, they ought to be accountable to them,” said Tamara Cooper, the executive director of the Republican Assembly, a grassroots group of conservative Republicans.

To change the way justices are chosen, the legislature would have to put a proposal on the ballot for voters’ approval.

For now, though, the high court is sending signals that it will oversee the school finance system—at least until lawmakers come up with an acceptable fix.

In the concluding paragraphs of its opinion this month, the court said it would keep tabs on the case and review the legislature’s response.

“If necessary, further action will be taken by this court as is deemed advisable to ensure compliance with this opinion,” it concluded.
 
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