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News Clips

News Clips – June 17 - 24, 2005

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STATE  
Accidents happen — and school insurance costs jump / Beacon News
Librarians reading between the lines / Chicago Tribune
School volunteers may face background checks / Quad Cities Online
Dress code financial needs stir concern / Belleville News-Democrat
Computers built by, for students / Chicago Tribune
Educators push options for state plan / Belleville News-Democrat
State of education unsatisfactory? / Daily Southtown
State reinstates writing exams for students / Belleville News-Democrat
State revives writing exam / Chicago Tribune
Another SICA deal bites the dust / Daily Southtown
Opinions vary of pension reform plan / Decatur Herald & Review
Dist. 214 cites flaws, rejects Title 1 funds / Daily Herald
Dist. 23 Wants To Tweak NCLB /
Des Plaines Journal
State should test writing in right way / Rockford Register Star

NATIONAL
Foreign speakers swamp schools / Washington Times
Laws test states' rights / Deseret Morning News (UT)
Back to school for state leaders / Austin American-Statesman
Top Magazines to Keep Ads Out of School Copies /
Los Angeles Times
Hip-Hop Unlocks the Meaning of Literary Classics /
Los Angeles Times
Opting Out in the Debate on Evolution / New York Times
Pentagon Creating Student Database /
Washington Post
Graduation rates dishonest, group says /
Chicago Sun-Times
School Reform Desired /
Los Angeles Times
Teachers paid an average salary of $46,752, survey finds / Boston Globe

FROM “EDUCATION WEEK”
N.J. Panel Recommends Expanding Number of 'Special Needs' Districts
Complaint Filed Against Reading Initiative
Guide Seeks New Clarity on Tutoring
States Raise Bar for High School Diploma
Friedman Foundation Marks 50 Years Since Voucher Idea
ETS Poll Finds Support for Changes to High Schools
Conn. Attorney General Says NCLB Lawsuit Still A Go
Ed. Dept. Seeks Comment on IDEA Rules
Religious Groups Jump at Chance to Offer NCLB Tutoring

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STATE

Accidents happen — and school insurance costs jump
Denise Linke, Aurora Beacon News
 
BATAVIA — A string of employee accidents will cost the School District nearly $102,000 in extra insurance premiums next school year.
 
The School Board has approved renewing the district's membership in the Collective Liability Insurance Cooperative despite the 75 percent premium hike for worker's compensation insurance.
 
The cost to the district will rise from $136,627 last year to $238,506 for 2005-06.
 
"As unhappy as I am with the increase, I'm still recommending that we stay in the program," said Assistant School Superintendent Joseph Yagel.
 
He said he plans to look for a cheaper insurance program this fall, in time to invoke CLIC's six-month termination clause if he finds a better deal.
 
"It's definitely appropriate to put this out to bid," agreed board member Jayne Resek.
 
At least five employees have submitted large worker's compensation claims during the past three years, raising the district's average from 80 percent of normal to 119 percent of normal, Yagel said.
 
Among the cases he cited are an elementary school teacher who damaged his knee ligaments while playing basketball with students on the school playground; an office worker who developed carpal tunnel syndrome; a maintenance worker who hurt himself while shoveling snow at a school; a teacher who slipped on black ice in a school parking lot; and a teacher who fell and broke her hip while supervising students going to their buses.
 
Each of these claims cost $100,000 or more, Yagel said."I don't feel we're doing anything wrong or being neglectful," he asserted. "We have a very aggressive, formalized safety program. Sometimes you're just unfortunate to have a few bad accidents in a short time."
 
Board member Leo Purpura suggested expanding the district's workplace safety program to include teachers, not just maintenance staff.
 
"To drive down (the number of accidents), we need a culture change. We have to drive home to all employees that safety is a very important issue," he said.
 
School Superintendent Ed Cave noted that the accidents don't reveal a common cause that a safety program could address.
 
"We've had a fairly diverse series of accidents," he said. "It's not like we had five people use chairs instead of ladders to reach something and then hurt themselves. A lot of this seems like plain bad luck."

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Librarians reading between the lines
Unusual offerings drive up school borrowing
Grace Aduroja,
Chicago Tribune
 
DOWNERS GROVE -- If a library encourages kids to read comic books, you know it'll be a hit.
 
That's what folks at the
Downers Grove South High School library urge kids to read--along with, of course, anything else. And that's why the library was named the top high school media center in the nation by the American Association of School Libraries.
 
The neatly organized book shelves and cluster of computers at Downers Grove South mirror that of any other library in neighboring districts. What makes the library unusual is the collaboration between teachers, students and librarians.
 
Students are encouraged to read anything, from romance novels to, yes, even Asian comic books. Librarians--given $30,000 annually from the English department--are encouraged to buy books that will generate student interest.
 
The library's book collection has increased from 7,600 to 16,300 in the last two years. And students are checking out twice as many books since the new books were added. More importantly, they're getting excited about reading.
 
"We have never seen such interest in reading. Just a lot of talk about books," said library department chair Rebecca Cassell.
 
The honor comes with a $10,000 prize. Downers Grove South library officials are still unsure exactly how they will spend the money.
 
Maybe on more comic books?

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School volunteers may face background checks
Robin J. Youngblood, Quad-Cities Online
 
The Rock Island-Milan School District may change its volunteer policy to require state background checks on volunteers.
 
After an April incident in Woodhull, when a disc jockey hired at the last minute for a middle-school dance turned out to be a registered sex offender, Rock Island-Milan decided to recheck its volunteer policy.
 
Currently, the district does state and federal background checks on all employees through the Rock Island Regional Office of Education, but not on volunteers.
 
Legally, the district only would be allowed to do a state, not federal, background check on volunteers, regional assistant superintendent John Flaherty said.
 
I.V. Foster, assistant superintendent of human resources for the Rock Island-Milan district, said the district is looking into the legality of doing a federal check on volunteers it suspects of being a part of, or convicted of, a crime outside
Illinois.
 
The school board is expected to vote in September to require volunteers to submit personal information, then administrators will decide what qualifies a person as a short- or long-term volunteer and cross-check volunteers on the sex offender registry list.
 
The new policy, which the board reviewed last week, also may require that volunteers be supervised by a certified staff member.
 
Mr. Foster recommended that the board first review the current policy and add to it that the district "reserves the right to conduct criminal background checks on all volunteer candidates who may be suspect of criminal and/or child-related criminal activity."
 
Mr. Flaherty said it may be "good practice" for districts to do checks on all volunteers in any unsupervised area.
 
Catholic schools such as Seton and Jordan, have such a policy, mandated by the Peoria Diocese.
 
"The diocese said they wanted to get everyone fingerprinted for the protection of children,"
Jordan principal Dan Lievens said.
 
Anyone who wants to volunteer at a Catholic school must undergo a state background check, a Child Abuse and Neglect Tracking System (CANTS) background check by the Department of Children and Family Services, and watch a three-hour video, "Protecting God's Children," which discusses recognizing child abusers.
 
However, short-term volunteers -- at the school for as little as one hour or one day a year - may be deterred by the hassle of getting fingerprinted and submitting information -- none of which now is required in public schools, Mr. Flaherty said.
 
Mr. Lievens said there were some complaints about the diocese requirements initially, but his response was "If it helps one child not to get abused then it's worth it."
 
The Rock Island-Milan district argues that the policy would deter potential criminals from interacting with children.
 
"Perhaps that would give them enough deterrent and they would say maybe that's not a good idea," Mr. Foster said. "(The policy) would provide additional safety for the school district."
 
Volunteer background checks
This is what's being considered for a revised volunteer policy:
 
-- All volunteers will give their name, current address, Social Security number, birth date, photo identification and proof of residency.
 
-- Volunteers will be under direct supervision of, and monitored by, a teacher or administrator.
 
-- Administrators will develop criteria for determining applicants to be either short- or long-term volunteers.
 
-- Administrators will cross-check applicants on the registered sex-offenders list on all short- and long-term volunteers.

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Dress code financial needs stir concern
Some students may be in need of help
Ramona Curtis, Belleville News-Democrat, 6/21/05
 
BELLEVILLE - More than 1,200 students in District 201 will qualify for financial assistance in order to meet the district's stricter dress code, according to board member Judy Cates.
 
"One of the things I remain concerned about is the lack of funding for students who can't afford clothing," Cates said during a district board meeting on Monday.
 
Earlier this year, the public high school district approved a school uniform code that requires students to wear khaki, blue or black pants and skirts and maroon, white, light blue or dark blue tops.
 
District Superintendent Brent Clark has vowed that district funds will not be used to help indigent students, despite the fact that districts are required by state law to provide assistance to low income students to meet the dress code.
 
Darrell Coons, pastor of Hope Church in Belleville, said during the meeting that area churches plan to raise funds to assist those students but is unclear how much will be raised or when the funds will be available.
 
"To my knowledge the churches of
Belleville have not developed a plan but we are open to raising money in our congregations to place in a fund to buy clothing," Coons said.
 
For parent Theresa Allwood, funding was not an issue but size availability was. Allwood said that both her son and daughter, who are
Belleville West High School students, are tall and slim and she has not been able to find clothing that fits the dress code in sizes suitable for them.
 
"My daughter wears a size 1 and I have been to Target, K-Mart and Wal-Mart and the smallest size they have is 4," she said. "Where do you go for kids that are hard to fit?"
 
Cates advised her to attend the Ad-Hoc Dress Code Committee meeting at
4 p.m. on July 11 so that they can address the issue.
 
Parent Leonard Goldstein had a concern about athletes being allowed to wear their uniforms and therefore being exempt from the dress code.
 
"How does that level the playing field, when people on sports teams get to wear uniforms?" Goldstein asked board members.
 
Clark said that all students, including athletes, who participate in any type of organized school club will be allowed to wear faculty-approved clothing during "club days."
 
Two students also spoke against the dress code. Craig Johnson predicted that many students will violate the dress code when school begins on Aug. 22.
 
"On the first day, first week, first month of school, students will find many ways to violate the dress code," he said. "There will be quite a problem when 10 percent of students are sent home or disciplined."

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Computers built by, for students
Program takes tech to minority schools
Lanier Frush Holt,
Chicago Tribune, 6/21/05
 
Between hours spent working at the
Calumet City Cultural Center and going to high school this spring, Adrieono Shanklin built computers from scratch.
 
The 15-year-old Thornton Fractional North student was one of 28 participating in Project Elevate, a collaborative effort between
Calumet City and Chicago State University's Community Technology Center.
 
Adrieono and his classmates get to keep the computers they worked on for eight weeks.
 
It will be the only working computer in the Shanklin household when it arrives.
"Making a computer seemed like it would be fun," said Adrieono, who received a certificate of completion Friday night.
 
The program, now in its second year, is aimed at bringing technology to low-income neighborhoods and schools with a glut of students who traditionally fail to meet reading, math and language arts standards set in the federal No Child Left Behind Act. The
Calumet City program is funded with a grant from the act.
 
To receive funding, a school must show need, said Patricia A. George, who authored the grant request and oversees the program for
Chicago State. Last year, the program was based at Robeson High School in Englewood, with 30 African-American students participating.
 
Federal statistics show many people of color are being left behind the technological curve. A 2004 U.S. Department of Commerce survey found in October 2003 that more than 54 percent of African-Americans and nearly 63 percent of Hispanics do not use the Internet, compared with nearly 35 percent of whites and about 37 percent of Asian-Americans and Pacific Islanders.
 
"There's a proliferation of students without the proper resources and proper technology to compete," George said. "We wanted to make sure `No Child Left Behind' meant no child."
 
Coming into the program, many students say they have only a passing knowledge of computers, knowing how to turn one on, play a few games, but not how they work. George said many schools, especially in low-income communities, lag in computer offerings.
 
Jochelle McFarlane, 12, said her
Calumet City junior high school has few computers and they are used primarily for taking tests.
 
"We've never had a computer at home before," Jochelle said. Her grandmother Patricia Medina said it will be good for Jochelle to have something to do on her own.
 
Each Saturday morning, students were given a different part from a kit containing a central processing unit for a PC, a keyboard, mouse, 15-inch flat-screen monitor, an empty tower, computer fan, on-off switch and a Windows XP program to load onto the machine.
 
Students were tested on each part separately before being able to move to the next piece of the computer.
 
Each kit cost about $400, excluding the monitor, which was an additional $400.
 
Students--who were recommended by a principal, teacher or other school official or wrote an essay to get enrolled--were not charged for the program or computers.
 
Students were also taken on field trips to universities to see how technology is being applied in higher education.
 
"I'm glad [
Chicago State] brought it to Calumet City," said Vicki Gutierrez, whose son Tony, 14, completed the program.

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Educators push options for state plan
Ramona Curtis, Belleville News-Democrat, 6/22/05
 
BELLEVILLE - From increasing testing to reducing red tape, area educators offered a variety of suggestions for the State Board of Education's five-year strategic plan for elementary education.
 
Interim Superintendent Randy Dunn and board members Brenda Holmes and Andrea Brown heard from regional and district superintendents, principals and teachers during a hearing Tuesday at Belleville West High School to get comments on a legislatively mandated comprehensive plan on the future of elementary education in the state. The visit is one of eight planned statewide.
 
Monroe-Randolph Regional Office of Education Superintendent Marc Kiehna said 70 percent of his region's administrators retired this year and the regional office is confronted with the challenge of supporting the new administrators.
 
Dunn said that he'd like to see a more collaborative relationship forged between the regional offices and the board, which would create a statewide standardized process.
 
Also discussed was the need to form a partnership between the business and education communities. Jim Pennekamp, executive director of Leadership Council Southwestern Illinois, said he would like the plan to address the role that the business community can play in education.
 
"From an economic development perspective, the academic achievement in the work force becomes more and more important because a qualified work force will dictate where a business locates," he said.
 
Paul Seibert,
Governor French Academy's director of development,had concerns about the lack of flexibility that public school districts have.
 
"There's a lot of collaboration between public and private schools, and what I hear from public school educators is that they want to live under the same rules as we do," Seibert said.
 
Holmes responded that the board is looking at a "less red tape" initiative.
 
"When we were appointed in September, we were given the charge of taking a look at the rules and regulations we have and streamlining what's there."
 
At times, suggestions conflicted with one another.
 
Illinois PTA district director Rhonda Jenkins asked that the board consider reinstating state testing for writing, social studies and the fine arts to make sure that students are receiving a comprehensive education. State testing is now required for only math and reading in order to satisfy guidelines for the federal No Child Left Behind Act.
 
Longtime
Belleville educator Mary McHugh said that there is too much emphasis on state testing and it distracts from a student's total education.
 
"Schools are getting rid of PE so they can have reading teachers," said McHugh, who retired from teaching in Belleville District 118 after 49 years. "Kids can't add and divide because they're using calculators, because calculators can be used on the ISAT."
 
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State of education unsatisfactory?
Marcus K. Garner, Daily Southtown, 6/22/05
 
Neither
Alsip residents nor school officials were happy with answers from the Illinois state officials they invited to a forum Tuesday on education funding.
 
"We came here today to talk about education and our children's futures, and they came to talk about complicated funding formulas, gambling expansion and pension reform," said Jerry Mulvihill, a school board member of
Alsip, Hazelgreen and Oak Lawn School District 126.
 
But
Elliot Regenstein, the state education reform director, considered the interaction between state- and local-level officials to be no more than a "good old, honest disagreement."
 
"We believe people pay enough in taxes," Regenstein said. "They said they are prepared to increase taxes to fund education."
 
Regenstein and state Rep. Kevin Joyce (D-Chicago) met with more than a dozen parents and school administrators Tuesday afternoon at
Lane School to answer their questions about funding for schools.
 
Joyce said his priority was limiting class sizes to 15 in grades kindergarten through 3, so that children in those developing reading ages can get the most attention.
 
"We let children go through the system unaccounted for until five or six years ago when we started holding children back in the seventh and eighth grade who couldn't read," he said.
 
Regenstein said the educational foundation level — funding guaranteed for each student — has increased by $600 since Gov. Rod Blagojevich's administration took office in 2002.
 
But Jan Mulqueeny, District 126 assistant superintendent, pointed out the district actually lost funding in that time because
Alsip's property value per person (a key determinant for the foundation levels) is skewed because the village has a lot of industrial property.
 
"We didn't gain revenue," Mulqueeny said. "Two years ago while it was said we were getting this much money, we in fact got less."
 
Regenstein said spending increases affect every district differently.
 
"In a lot of instances, what state aid is doing is keeping some districts above water," he said. "We're going to do everything we can to move the foundation level so it picks up more districts."

District 126 in April failed in its third attempt to pass a tax increase referendum. The ballot question to raise the district tax rate by 50 cents was rejected by a 57-vote margin, and Mulvihill said the district was hoping for some help.
 
"We were looking for some relief from the state," he said.
 
Regenstein pointed to the recent state pension restructuring, and other state spending cutbacks that made way for an additional $330 million for schools funding.
 
But one parent said she didn't see where those increases would be enough for District 126.
 
"So what you're telling me is, 'gee, we can't put more money into the district," she said. "Meanwhile, we can't pass a referendum because we have an aging community on fixed incomes. What are we supposed to do?"
 
Regenstein said because of Blagojevich's policy not to raise taxes, communities would have to seek local tax increases to boost their revenue.
 
"That's always been the case in
Illinois," he said. "Realistically, what most districts in the state do, they go out for tax referenda."

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State reinstates writing exams for students
Associated Press, 6/23/05
 
CHICAGO - Students in Illinois will soon begin taking state writing exams again after Illinois drew criticism for eliminating the tests last year in an effort to save money.
 
Gov. Rod Blagojevich signed legislation Wednesday to reinstate the exam, which will go into effect beginning in the 2006-07 school year.
 
"It was ridiculous and embarrassing," said State Sen. Miguel del Valle, D-Chicago, who led the effort to reinstate the exam. "The bottom line is we need to assess writing."
 
The Illinois State Board of Education is required to test students in reading, math and science - the subjects mandated by the federal reform law No Child Left Behind.
 
State budget problems led
Illinois to cut not only writing but social studies tests last year in an effort to save about $6 million.
 
Lawmakers also said the decision to strike the exams was in an effort to change
Illinois' testing policy. But the elimination drew criticism from testing experts around the country who said writing assessment is essential and Illinois was the only state to abolish the entire writing exam.
 
Under the new law, fifth, eighth and 11th graders will begin taking the writing exam in 2006-07. Sixth graders will start the following year and third graders will begin in 2008-09.
 
Del Valle said he hopes the law will trigger a new approach to assessing writing.
 
Becky McCabe, head of assessment with the Illinois State Board of Education, said the board will review the past writing exams before making a decision whether to have a new assessment method.
 
Reinstatement of the social studies exam was not included in the legislation signed Wednesday.

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State revives writing exam / Chicago Tribune
Test was axed in '04 to balance budget
By Diane Rado, Tribune staff reporter,
6/23/05

Thousands of
Illinois students will take state writing exams again, beginning in 2006-07.

Gov. Rod Blagojevich signed legislation Wednesday to reinstate the annual writing test, which dated to 1990 but was wiped out last year because of state budget constraints.

Ending the tests brought national criticism to
Illinois, with testing experts saying writing is an essential skill and no other state had gone as far as to eliminate an entire writing exam.

"It was ridiculous and embarrassing," said State Sen. Miguel del Valle (D-Chicago), who led efforts to reinstate the test. "The bottom line is we need to assess writing."

Under the new law, 5th, 8th and 11th graders will take the writing exam in 2006-07. Sixth graders will be added in 2007-08, and 3rd graders will be added in 2008-09.

In recent years, 3rd, 5th, 8th and 11th graders had taken the test.

But last year, lawmakers approved cuts that eliminated the writing test for 2004-05, as well as a state social studies exam. Test questions in fine arts, physical development and health also were stricken from state tests given this spring.

High school students no longer had to write an essay as part of their 11th grade
Prairie State exam. However, a portion of the two-day exam this spring still contained a writing exercise that included editing passages for grammar and punctuation.

The testing cuts were expected to save $6 million in administration costs, but were criticized as some of the most severe in the nation at a time when states were trying to meet standards under federal No Child Left Behind reforms.

Those reforms, enacted in 2002, have put extraordinary pressure on schools to ensure that children of all backgrounds can pass reading, math and soon, science tests.

Critics say that pressure has led to too much test preparation and even cheating in some schools. Meanwhile, states with budget problems, like
Illinois, have been inclined to cut back on some aspects of their testing programs, particularly in subjects that aren't required under No Child Left Behind.

In addition, not all educators agree on how to best assess writing, said del Valle, and some didn't want the old test back. The state writing assessment has traditionally involved students responding to a particular question, called a prompt. Some educators prefer portfolios that show a student's progress, including rough drafts.

Del Valle said he hopes the new law will pave the way for a new approach to assessing writing in
Illinois.

Becky McCabe, head of assessment at the Illinois State Board of Education, said it's too soon to tell what will happen, "but we will review what we've done in the past" before making any final decisions on an assessment approach.

Lawmakers put an extra $1.8 million into the state board's testing budget to ramp up the reinstated writing test.

According to one education expert, most states assess writing with a prompt question.

But Mary Ann Smith, head of government relations for the National Writing Project, a nationwide effort to improve youngsters' writing skills, said there is more than one way to assess those skills.

"That is why people keep making a plea for multiple assessments," she said.

For example, students could respond to a prompt, she said, but they could also turn in portfolios that show their work over time, including drafts, revisions, and final versions.

The social studies exam was not reinstated in the legislation signed by the governor Wednesday.

The legislation also includes other education items, including a $200 increase in per-pupil state aid that was agreed upon in budget negotiations this spring. The increase will push aid to $5,164 per pupil next school year.
 
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Another SICA deal bites the dust
Kati Phillips, Daily Southtown, 6/23/05
 
A key school district has shot down a realignment proposal aimed at resolving complaints of racial imbalance in the South Inter-Conference Association.

But it appears the complaints have been undermined by superintendents who agreed to turn back the clock on SICA divisions.
 
The realignment proposal devised in mediation Monday called for Bremen High School District 228 to join the SICA South division east of Interstate 57.
 
School board members disapproved of it during a closed session Tuesday night because their four schools —
Tinley Park, Oak Forest, Bremen and Hillcrest — offer more sports and academic programs than the competition, Supt. Rich Mitchell said.
 
"Based on scope of programs, (board members) are not in favor," he said.
 
The proposal's implementation was contingent on the approval of District 228.
 
The board's rejection means superintendents from SICA's 19 member districts must decide if they want to continue mediation or face a hearing on racial segregation with the Illinois State Board of Education.
 
A new mediation date was not set as of Wednesday.
 
"I don't know if mediation is over or not," said Evergreen Park High School District 231 Supt. Jim Gallagher.
 
Gallagher, vice president of the SICA superintendents' board of control, said district leaders approved several resolutions that likely make moot the segregation petition.
 
The resolutions were approved at a regular board of control meeting after mediation concluded, he said. The superintendents from Joliet and Community High School District 218 were absent.
 
In a 17-to-0 vote, superintendents rescinded the realignment they approved in December that sparked racial debate.
 
This means the controversial realignment has been scrapped, and SICA schools will continue to use alignments in place for the past decade, Gallagher said.
 
The only exception is for the 10 schools that withdrew from SICA at the end of the 2004-05 school year to form the SouthWest Suburban Conference.
 
District leaders also voted 17 to 0 to disband SICA effective
June 30, 2006.
 
This frees districts east of Interstate 57 to start their own conference or negotiate to enter two new conferences spawned during the racial debate, Gallagher said.
 
The new conferences are the SouthWest Suburban Conference and an unnamed conference to start in 2006-07 that is made up of schools from the old SICA North-Central division.
 
In an 11-to-0 vote, superintendents decided to honor all contracts for the 2005-06 school year as currently scheduled.
 
This approval was needed because it is too late to change schedules for fall sports. The six districts leaving for the SouthWest conference abstained, Gallagher said.

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Opinions vary of pension reform plan
Success or failure depends upon the source, who they blame
By VALERIE WELLS,
Decatur Herald & Review Staff Writer, 6/24/05
 
DECATUR - Whether the effects of the state's pension reforms will be good or bad depends on whom you ask.

The reforms, passed May 29 as part of the state's fiscal 2006 budget, make significant changes to the retirement plans of employees such as teachers. Among the changes:

- The current formula allows school districts to increase salaries up to 20 percent every year to boost pension benefits, with the state covering those costs. The new plan caps the state's share at 6 percent.

- Employees belonging to the State University Retirement System and Teachers Retirement System have two pension formulas to choose from and automatically get the one paying the highest rate, with the state matching the individual's contribution and interest earned at 140 percent. That ends for new hires.

- The new plan eliminates lump sum awards for unearned sick leave for pension credit beyond what is normally earned for contracts signed after the effective date of the act.

- No new pension benefits will be allowed without a full funding source.

- A new task force will be created to develop additional pension reforms.

- Current employees and their employer will be required to pay for early retirement options, rather than the state.

The reforms were necessary because the state is already so far behind in keeping up with paying for existing pensions, and that will only get worse in coming years, said state Rep. Bob Flider, D-Mount Zion.

"If you look at pension obligations over the next 40 years, without reforms, taxpayers will contribute $286 billion, and only 40 percent of that would cover benefits," Flider said. "Sixty percent would be to make up for payments on past years' unfunded liability."

Over the past 30 years or so, Flider said, the legislature and governors failed to fully fund pensions. The state constitution requires that those be paid no matter what, so the state has to get the money somewhere.

"To say that we've created a problem today (with the reforms) is totally inaccurate," Flider said. "The reforms we've passed are designed to save as much as $70 billion over the next 40 years. So, in effect, the action we took is not only to preserve the pensions but to eliminate the need for a tax increase to fund them in the future."

The Illinois Education Association and the Illinois Federation of Teachers worked with the legislature to come up with the modifications, he said.

State Sen. Frank Watson couldn't disagree more with Flider's assessment, said his spokeswoman, Patty Shuh. He voted against the changes.

"There's not much 'reform' here," Shuh said. "The governor turned his back on reforms recommended by the governor's task force that would have saved big money."

Chicago teachers, Shuh said, have their own retirement system separate from the teachers in the rest of the state, and that system not only will undergo no changes, but that pension fund is 90 percent funded, while the suburban and downstate Teachers Retirement System is only funded at about 60 percent.

"What we'll do is continue to try to educate the public," Shuh said. "We'll be loud and vocal in our opposition and make everyone aware that
Chicago pensions were sweetened while downstate's were diminished."

Another part of this reform is that the legislature plans to take two years off paying into the fund, said Laurence J. Msall, president of the Civic Federation of Chicago, a nonpartisan government research organization.

"This puts (the state) in reverse gear instead of moving forward in terms of pension reform," Msall said.

In 1995, he said, the legislature passed a law requiring the state to bring the funding level for pensions up to 90 percent within 50 years, working toward it gradually.

"Now, because
Illinois pensions are historically underfunded, this is further damage to a rather weak system," he said.

The Civic Federation is worried about the future, he said, because if this trend continues, contributions will fall further and further behind until a disproportionate percentage of all
Illinois taxes will have to be dedicated to making pension payments, and that will shortchange all of the other things taxes support.

Teachers who retire by June 30 this year won't be affected, but the changes could have a profound affect on teachers who are already employed and ones who have yet to begin their careers, said Martin Getty, director of business affairs for
Decatur's public schools.

Legislators have accused school districts of creating the unfunded liability by granting bonuses and sick leave enhancement while refusing to take their own share of the blame, he said.

"By trying to make accusations against schools, they have deflected attention away from the real problem, and the real problem is who created the unfunded liability - and that's the state," Getty said.
 
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Dist. 214 cites flaws, rejects Title 1 funds
By Erica Meltzer, Daily Herald Staff Writer,
6/24/05

If Northwest Suburban High School District 214 had accepted federal Title I funds this year, the district would have received enough money to tutor just 190 of 952 eligible students.

Rather than make that choice, District 214 school board members voted 5-2 Thursday not to accept Title I funds. The decision means they will not have to submit to sanctions, such as tutoring and school choice, required by No Child Left Behind.

Palatine-Schaumburg High School District 211 and Wheeling Township Elementary District 21 also have declined Title I funds.

District 214 was eligible for $196,058 in Title I funds, about 1 percent of its budget. That money must be spent on services for low-income students.

The district would have been required to spend 20 percent of that money — or $39,212 — on private tutoring for low-income students, but that would have helped only a fraction of the eligible students.

“The biggest problem I have is it is so unfair to accept money to benefit one-ninth of the students, while other students who may be in that same category aren’t eligible,” board member Miriam “Mimi” Cooper said.

Board members Leslie Pinney and Lenore Bragaw voted to continue to seek Title I funds.

Bragaw said outside tutoring was worth a try, even if not all low-income students would benefit.

“There’s always inequity,” Bragaw said. “Turning this money down because of the inequity is like saying because you can’t feed everyone, no one should eat.”

But board member Bill Blaine said he was uncomfortable using private companies to provide the tutoring, as required by the law, because the district would not control their qualifications.

Board members said they agreed with the intent of No Child Left Behind and certain practices, such as breaking down test data to show how well subgroups performed, were useful in showing schools where they needed to do better.

But the majority disagreed with providing school choice or paying for private tutoring, the first two levels of sanctions under the law if a school or certain subgroups of students don’t meet standards for two years.

Without Title I funds, the students still will take all the same tests and schools still will be subject to state sanctions.

“I think our district can do better and reach more children without this money,” board member Robert Zimmanck said.

By declining Title I money this year, the district can start the clock over. If it opts back in next year, it would be another two years before sanctions again would apply to District 214 schools.

Officials in districts that have opted out this year hope legislators will change aspects of the law by then.
 
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Dist. 23 Wants To Tweak NCLB
By MICHELLE ORRIS,
Des Plaines Journal Reporter, 6/22/05

Prospect Heights Elementary Dist. 23 school board members voted in support of a bill proposal last week that would amend the No Child Left Behind Act.

Dist. 23 board members, who have always been vocal objectors to aspects of the No Child Left Behind Act, supported an amendment that was developed by the National School Boards Association.

The No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB) mandates that each school district in the country meet a certain percentage of passing grades on a standardized test chosen by the state. Minority categories of students grouped by race and economic status must meet the same percentage of passing grades. School districts without enough passing grades in each category for two years are ineligible for federal grant money, and face sanctions, such as installing tutoring programs and allowing students to transfer to another school.

In summary, the National School Boards Association amendment to the act attempts to improve how the act defines adequate yearly progress, change the required sanctions against schools that do not make adequate progress, and grant greater flexibility for accountability systems.

Under the proposed amendment, some students with special circumstances may be excluded from taking the standardized tests. In order to be grouped in a minority category, the number of students must exceed a minimum percentage of the student population. Students with disabilities would be evaluated in a more individualized fashion. The scores of students with limited English skills would take into account the number of years the student has attended school in the
United States. In addition, students in schools that do not meet adequate yearly progress would not be allowed to transfer to schools that are overcrowded or are an impractical distance from the student's home school.

The Dist. 23 school board supported the amendment via resolution based on the board's "nearly three full years of operational experience in implementing NCLB," and noted that the board supports the act's goals of "raising student achievements; closing the achievement gap; and ensuring that each child has a highly qualified teacher."

Dist. 23 students are performing better on the tests than the state average. However, district officials have warned that the benchmark percentages of passing grades will rise dramatically in the coming years. In 2014, 100% of the district's students must pass the test in order to avoid federal sanctions.

"There is going to come a point in time when we will not meet the standards," Superintendent Greg Guarrine said in December.

Despite objections to the act, the school board resolution agreed with the overall objectives of the No Child Left Behind Act.

"The Prospect Heights School Dist. 23 Board of Education continues to welcome the accountability for improving student and school performance," the resolution stated.
 
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State should test writing in right way
Rockford Register Star Editorial, 6/24/05

Writing skill -- the ability to put thoughts together in a coherent, meaningful fashion -- is essential to success in almost any profession a young person enters. And any education system that does not evaluate a young person on those skills fails. End of story.

But Gov. Rod Blagojevich wanted to rewrite the story for
Illinois, and we are glad he did. He signed a bill this week that reinstates state writing exams after their elimination last year for budget reasons.

Testing officials around the country said
Illinois was the only state to eliminate all of its writing exams. It was a "ridiculous and embarrassing" distinction, Sen. Miguel del Valle, D-Chicago, said. He led the effort to reinstate the exam.

"The bottom line is, we need to assess writing," del Valle said.

The only bottom line that state officials saw a year ago was $6 million. That was the amount saved when the state abolished the tests, not only in writing but in social studies. Those areas are not mandated by the federal reform law No Child Left Behind.
Reading, math and science testing is required.

People have long complained about the writing portion of
Illinois standardized testing and that it was not a good way to simulate real situations and test real skills. Lawmakers said they agreed to eliminate the test last year in part to stimulate change.

The new law makes that change an urgent matter. Fifth-, eighth- and 11th-graders will take the writing exam beginning in 2006-07. Sixth-graders will start the next year, and third-graders will begin in 2008-09.

The Illinois State Board of Education says it will look at past writing exams before deciding whether to switch testing methods. If that means state officials want to acknowledge mistakes and learn from history, great. If they just want to appease critics and continue with the status quo, not so good.

Teaching writing is tricky. Testing writing is even more so. The new writing section of the SAT is a case in point. Les Perelman of MIT, who has developed and administered writing tests for 25 years, told salon.com in May that he believes the new SAT is not just a bad way to grade writing, it is a threat to writing skills.

Ideally, we'd like to see a test that lets students know in which areas they are deficient. Sentence structure? Weak argument? Bad spelling? Ideally, we'd like to see a test that does not just ask students to spit back a formulaic essay. After all -- and don't we know it -- boring writing is not good writing.
 
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===========================================================================

NATIONAL

Foreign speakers swamp schools
By George Archibald,
Washington Times, 6/19/05

School enrollment growth of immigrant non-English speaking students in 18 states through mid-America has surpassed 200 percent since 1990.

Teachers and administrators in those states have faced a surprising demographic reality as enrollment of students who don't speak English, mostly Hispanic, has grown more than 10 times faster than the overall rise in school enrollment in the past 15 years, according to a biennial report to Congress by the Education Department.

The fast-growing number of students who don't speak English -- now an estimated 9 million and increasing by almost 1 million a year -- is forcing a sea change in language development in schools and the way teachers help children achieve required reading and math proficiency in each grade under the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB), education leaders say.

"They do have to learn English," Donna Christian, president of the federally funded nonprofit Center for Applied Linguistics, said of schoolchildren from immigrant families.

"We must share a common language. It is important for all children to learn English to a high degree so they can be successful. But that does not exclude the possibility of them developing their native language while learning English," Mrs. Christian said.

It is similarly important for English-speaking teachers and students "to become bilingual" in our increasingly diverse schools, with a total of 440 different languages being spoken nationally, she said.

Booming migration of families that do not speak English is now happening in less-populated states as well, mostly where there are migrant jobs and the economy is prospering: Arkansas, Colorado, Georgia, Idaho, Kansas, Minnesota, Nebraska, North Carolina, Oregon, Utah, Virginia, Tennessee, Washington and Wisconsin.

According to the Education Department, local school districts spent an average $110 in federal Title III funds per student last year to teach English to foreign language students. The amount was as high as $288 per student in Jackson, Miss.

While the growing language problem has placed increased pressure on schools and districts to have enough children pass required reading and math tests under the NCLB, most still achieved adequate yearly progress, department officials said.

Florida, with 292,000 English language learners, or 13 percent of total enrollment, did not have a single school district targeted for needing improvement because it failed to meet adequate yearly progress two years in a row.

In
California, students who do not speak English are now more than one-fourth of the state's 6.4-million school population; in Texas, Nevada and New Mexico, almost one-fifth; and more than 10 percent of students in six other states, according to the Education Department's 503-page report.

It is not known how many students are children of illegal alien parents because, under federal privacy laws, state officials and federal census surveys are not permitted to ask about the legal status of aliens, officials said.

Vietnamese ranks third nationally behind English and Spanish, with other languages ranking high in some states: Serbo-Croatian in Iowa, Kentucky, Missouri and Vermont; Chinese in New York; Portuguese in Connecticut, Massachusetts, New Jersey and Rhode Island; Russian in Oregon, South Carolina and Washington; Arabic in Michigan, Ohio and West Virginia; Korean in Maryland and Virginia; Blackfoot in Montana; Navajo in Utah.
 
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Laws test states' rights
By Laura Hancock,
Deseret Morning News, 6/21/05

PROVO — The classic power struggle between states and the federal government has surfaced in modern times in education, Virginia's solicitor general says.

Federal policies such as No Child Left Behind, Title IX and the Individuals with Disabilities Education Improvement Act are the center of the struggle, said William Thro.

Thro has argued cases of federalism, also known as states' rights, before the Supreme Court of the
United States and spoke about the national-state government struggle at a recent education and law conference at Brigham Young University, attended by about 300 people. Lawyers and educators received continuing education credit in their professions for attending the conference.

Thro said an argument can be made that the federal government has no power to make education policy, except in cases in which education practices violate federal law, such as segregation.

"A more moderate argument, I think, is the national government can make education policy, but there is a line they can't cross," he said.

Thro said the federal government may be crossing the line with NCLB, which focuses on eliminating gaps in education of the poor and minority students, and Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972 to the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which prohibits federally funded schools from discriminating on the basis of sex in sports, admissions, available courses and other opportunities.

If the federal government makes an educational policy, it has to provide states with money to implement it, Thro said.

That hasn't happened with Title IX, Thro said, because many schools have had to start female sports programs without directly receiving federal government money.

With NCLB, "the federal government puts you in a position where you have no choice and you have to take the money," Thro told the conference attendees, adding that it is coercion.

Courts say that the federal government cannot coerce the states, cut the Supreme Court has not defined coercion.

Many people believe IDEA, the federal disabilities education act, is an illegal federal government mandate, but Thro disagrees.

"In that instance, the money follows the condition," he said, arguing that IDEA — designed to ensure that students with disabilities have access to appropriate education programs — is different than Title IX and NCLB.

Thro also discussed
Utah's current struggle with the U.S. Department of Education. During its special session in April, the Utah Legislature passed a bill that challenges NCLB.

The measure requires
Utah educators to follow state educational policies when there is confusion over President Bush's NCLB.

Education secretary Margaret Spellings said
Utah students will be hurt in the long run. And while she did not threaten to immediately yank $107 million in federal money Utah receives for education, the results of noncompliance could cost the state, she said.

Thro believes state leaders are playing a game of chicken with the federal government: The loser will be determined by which one backs off first.

Thro couldn't predict
Utah's fate. The state could end up in court, he said.

However,
Connecticut may beat Utah to the Supreme Court.

The state is suing the Department of Education over NCLB, in part arguing that the federal government doesn't properly fund the policy. The case most likely will be appealed from a lower federal court to the 2nd Circuit Court of Appeals and then, by 2008, to the Supreme Court.

The Supreme Court is asked to hear 8,000 cases a year. It accepts one case in 100, Thro said.

"If the
Connecticut lower federal court were to invalidate No Child Left Behind, the (Supreme) Court would almost certainly take it," he said.
 
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Back to school for state leaders
30-day session begins Tuesday to revisit money for education
By Jason Embry,
W. Gardner Selby, Austin American-Statesman, 6/21/05

Legislators who have failed three times since 2003 to approve a new system of paying for public schools will find the stakes higher than ever today when they return to the Capitol to take another swing at the issue.

They will begin a 30-day special session at
noon with hopes of trading cuts in school property taxes for higher taxes elsewhere while putting more money into education than the incremental increases they approved earlier this year.
 
With the 2006 primary nine months away, they're also looking to blunt criticism that their regular session ended without action on one of the state's most pressing concerns.

"We do not have any kind of a deal on the revenue aspect," House Speaker Tom Craddick said about the key issue of how to replace money schools would lose if property taxes were cut. "We're here, and we're going to do the best and most we can to make this happen. Where we get, I can't say."

Gov. Rick Perry boosted the political stakes last week when he vetoed the $35 billion that lawmakers agreed to spend on schools under the current finance system, raising the possibility that schools will be unable to open this fall.

That's extremely unlikely because state leaders could restore the money if the special session fails, but even the mention of schools not starting turns up the heat on lawmakers.

Lawmakers already were under heavy pressure earlier this year to draft a new school finance system. A state judge has ruled the current system unconstitutional, largely because of underfunding, in a decision that is under review by the Texas Supreme Court.

One aspect lawmakers will review is whether property-wealthy school districts must continue to send money to districts with fewer resources.

Lawmakers are also hearing from constituents who are tired of property tax bill increases.

The House and Senate each passed proposals during the regular legislative session, but leaders could not agree on a final, compromise plan before the session ended May 30. Key lawmakers say those differences, particularly on taxes, remain.

The sticking point was how to replace at least $3.5 billion a year in reduced property taxes. House members wanted to rely more heavily on consumption taxes; the Senate put more of the burden on businesses.

Perry will unveil a proposal today that "will define the middle ground" between the House and Senate, spokesman Robert Black said. He refused to confirm or deny details.

Craddick and Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst said Perry would push for an increase of seven-tenths of a cent in the state sales tax, from 6.25 cents per dollar to 6.95, and extend it to car repair bills and cosmetic surgery. The House had pushed for a 1-cent increase in the sales tax; the Senate approved a half-cent boost.

Craddick said House members want to see at least a 35-cent cut in the property tax rate, which would put the maximum rate for school maintenance operations at $1.15 per $100 of assessed property value, with more cuts in future years.

"I don't think the members of the House will vote for a small bite," he said.

Steve Ogden, chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, voiced a similar concern but added that senators realize they might have to phase in property tax cuts over several years to pass a credible plan.

In addition to the tax swap, lawmakers will use the special session to discuss teacher pay, testing, textbook funding, school ratings and other education reforms. Lawmakers have expressed optimism about reaching agreement on the education measures, saying they were close to one at the end of the regular session.

"We have a lot to build on, and I think that's exactly what we're going to do," said Sen. Florence Shapiro, R-Plano.

Also Monday, House Democrats urged their colleagues to revisit a school finance plan that the House voted down in March.

The Democrats' plan calls for $45,000, instead of the current $15,000, of a home's value to be exempt from school property taxes. It also would give a smaller property tax cut to businesses than House and Senate negotiators had agreed to deliver by the end of the session.

The maximum rate for school taxation would fall to $1.25 per $100 in property value. Democratic leaders said their plan would deliver a larger tax cut than the one that passed the House for the owner of an average home in nearly every part of a state. They did not specify how they would raise the money to pay for the proposal.

"Our plan would provide more resources to
Texas schools and greater tax savings to the vast majority of Texas homeowners," said Rep. Scott Hochberg, D-Houston.

Kent Grusendorf, R-Arlington, chairman of the House Public Education Committee, said he and Rep. Phil King, R-Weatherford, could file legislation expanding items covered by the state sales tax and use the extra revenue for cuts in local school property taxes, all subject to voter approval.

"I'm not married to any particular idea," Grusendorf said. "I like the idea of finding additional ways to reduce property taxes and allow voters to decide."

State officials estimate that a special session can cost about $1.7 million.
 
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Top Magazines to Keep Ads Out of School Copies
Associated Press, 6/21/05

Tobacco ads in school library editions of Time, Newsweek, People and Sports Illustrated magazines will be eliminated under an agreement.
 
The deal between publishers and states attorneys general follows a 2003 agreement by publishers and tobacco companies in which tobacco ads were banned from classroom editions of the magazines.

The agreement — necessary, officials say, because school libraries often don't subscribe to the classroom editions — provides for "selective binding" of those editions beginning this summer.
 
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Hip-Hop Unlocks the Meaning of Literary Classics
An English teacher gets a powerful response when he demystifies the world of Shakespeare for students.
By Mitchell Landsberg,
Los Angeles Times Staff Writer, 6/19/05

A visitor wandering into Alan Sitomer's English literature class at
Lynwood High School could be forgiven for wondering when Elmore Leonard became required reading for 10th graders.

In the course of leading a lively discussion about a work of fiction, Sitomer described one character as a whore and another as a gold-digger. One's a hanger-on, the type who'd take advantage of his best friend, the rap star. And then there's the "regular dude," a guy who just "wants things to be good in his 'hood."

But the work of fiction is "Hamlet"; the characters are Gertrude, Ophelia, Polonius and Horatio. And the students — teens whose prior view of Shakespeare could reasonably be summed up as "boring dead white guy, impossible to understand" — are deep into the text.

"Who's got the power, Anthony?" Sitomer demands of a student who has a bit of swagger to go with his shaved head. "When Mom's not around, who gets the remote control?"

The older brother gets it, Anthony replies. That's Hamlet's father, the king, giving his younger brother, Claudius, good reason to want him dead.

And Anthony, a younger brother, gets it too.

For Sitomer, 38, who grew up in New York and Florida and has a touch of street in his step, teaching literature is all about building bridges that allow his students to understand that great literature is not just a window into the past but a mirror illuminating their own lives.

"Kids would rather go to the dentist than read Shakespeare," he said during a stroll through his school's well-tended, bunker-like campus, which closed for the semester Friday. "But if you turn on that internal light, make it relevant and contemporary … you can see how passionately they get involved. When you use examples from their own lives, that's when it's living literature."

Jose Urias,
Lynwood's principal, credits Sitomer with helping to improve academic performance at the school. He said 99% of Sitomer's students pass the English portion of the California high school exit exam. "He exemplifies what a good teacher is," Urias said. "It's just a whole new perspective that he's able to share with the kids and with all of us."

Since starting at
Lynwood High six years ago, Sitomer has juggled teaching with writing. He recently published his second book, "The Hoopster," a coming-of-age novel for teens about a high school student who lives in an inner-city neighborhood and grapples with real-world issues that include racism, violence and basketball.

The book struck a chord with Sitomer's students, who are nearly all Latino or black, mostly poor and acquainted with violence and crime.

"I read it in one day," said Vicky Trinidad, a slender, animated girl with a dark brown ponytail.

His first book, "Hip-Hop Poetry and the Classics," was a guide for teachers who want to draw connections, as Sitomer does, between hip-hop lyrics and the work of such poets as Keats, Tennyson, Robert Frost and Emily Dickinson.

He puts Dylan Thomas — "Do Not Go Gentle Into That Good Night" — up against Tupac Shakur:

"The question I wonder is, after death, after my last breath

When will I finally get to rest?"

"It's demystifying the world of poetry for teenagers," said Sitomer, known as "Mr. Alan" to students. "Making connections. Keeping it relevant."

To teach "Hamlet," Sitomer began with an exercise. He told the students, who are mostly 15 and 16, to take out a piece of paper and write their mother's name, father's name and the name of an uncle. Now, he continued, cross out your father's name, because he died three weeks ago, and your uncle is sleeping with your mother.

"They're like, 'Oh, my God!' " Sitomer said.

He then had them write about how they felt. "The next morning, some of them were still mad at their moms," he recalled, chuckling.
 
With that close-to-the-bone prologue, they tackled "Hamlet."

"I thought I wouldn't understand it at all," Yahaira Moreno said, "but I'm really liking it."
 
"We can connect to the text," Vicky added, "because he's explaining it in vocabulary we understand."

Amir Ali, a junior who had Sitomer's class last year, said his favorite book was "definitely 'Hamlet.' " Before, he had viewed Shakespeare as "artsy-fartsy, not really a hip thing to study." His view now? Definitely hip.

"I don't think I would have liked it if I didn't have Mr. Alan guiding me," he added. "Shakespeare isn't exactly popular among my generation."

Sitomer went to
Lynwood after a fill-in stint at New Roads, a private school in Santa Monica. David Bryan, the head of the school, remembers him as "certainly competent, but … didn't stand out in any way."

Sitomer took away an appreciation for the advantages of a private school; he had one class with only 11 students, he said, and his classes at
Lynwood sometimes have more than 40.

But he doesn't believe his students at
Lynwood are fundamentally different. "Internally, they're the same," he said.

"I have so much respect for my students," he added, "because they face challenges I never had to face in high school. Some of the things that are going on I never heard of when I was their age. So just to make it to class, I have a tremendous amount of respect for them."

Standardized test scores reinforce Sitomer's point.
Lynwood High is near the bottom in statewide rankings that compare all public high schools but near the top among schools with similar demographics.

What Sitomer wants his students to know is this: Books can change a life — even save one.

Sitomer related an example at a recent book signing for his new novel at the Grove shopping center. It was not your typical literary event. A DJ spun classic hip-hop tracks — the Fat Boys, Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five, Public Enemy. A group of young poets, Project Blowed, put on a poetry slam. And Sitomer told a story that brought gasps from the audience of a few dozen people.

The first time he tried using hip-hop to teach classic poetry, he said, was also the first time he had "100% involvement from 100% of my students." He realized he was onto something, he said, but it wasn't until the end of the school year that he realized how powerful it was.

On the last day of class, he said, a girl walked up to his desk, shyly slid him a note, waved goodbye and quickly left. The note explained that she had been considering suicide until she read Dylan Thomas' "Do Not Go Gentle Into That Good Night," with its admonition to "rage, rage against the dying of the light."

"She got it," Sitomer said, "and made a good decision…. I was blown away."

He glanced about, gesturing at row after row of bookshop shelves.

"If one poem can do that for a student," he said, "think of the power of a book."
 
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Opting Out in the Debate on Evolution
By
CORNELIA DEAN, New York Times, 6/21/05

When the Kansas State Board of Education decided to hold hearings this spring on what the state's schoolchildren should be taught about evolution, Dr. Kenneth R. Miller was invited to testify. Lots of people thought he was a good choice to speak for science.

Dr. Miller is a professor of biology at
Brown University, a co-author of widely used high school and college biology texts, an ardent advocate of the teaching of evolution - and a person of faith. In another of his books, "Finding Darwin's God," he not only outlines the scientific failings of creationism and its doctrinal cousin, "intelligent design," but also tells how he reconciles his faith in God with his faith in science.

But Dr. Miller declined to testify. And he was not alone. Mainstream scientists, even those who have long urged researchers to speak with a louder voice in public debates, stayed away from
Kansas.

In general, they offered two reasons for the decision: that the outcome of the hearings was a foregone conclusion, and that participating in them would only strengthen the idea in some minds that there was a serious debate in science about the power of the theory of evolution.

"We on the science side of things strong-armed the
Kansas hearings because we realized this was not a scientific exchange, it was a political show trial," said Eugenie Scott, director of the National Center for Science Education, which promotes the teaching of evolution. "We are never going to solve it by throwing science at it."

The American Association for the Advancement of Science, a large organization of researchers and teachers, and the publisher of the journal Science, also declined to participate.

"If the evidence for modern Darwinian theory is so overwhelming, they should have called the bluff on the other side and come and made their arguments," said John West, a political scientist and a senior fellow at the Discovery Institute, a research organization that supports work challenging the theory of evolution. "They should have put up or shut up."

Dr. West said that although most of the institute's resources support research on intelligent design, the theory that life on earth is far too complex to have evolved without the guidance of an intelligent agent, the organization does not advocate that students be required to learn it. Nor does it object to the teaching of evolution, he said.

"The majority of biologists obviously support Darwinian evolution in its full-fledged view," he said. "The question is, are there legitimate, peer-reviewed criticisms? If there are, students should know about them."

In theory, this position - "teach the controversy" - is one any scientist should support. But mainstream scientists say alternatives to evolution have repeatedly failed the tests of science, and the criticisms have been answered again and again. For scientists, there is no controversy.

Dr. Miller said he decided to stay away from the hearings because he was convinced that the panel would recommend a "teach the controversy" approach regardless of the testimony presented. "The people running things were people whose minds were already made up," Dr. Miller said in an interview in May, before the panel's recommendations were announced.

He said he had anticipated that "they would say, 'This is such a fascinating controversy that what we need to do is let the children of
Kansas have the same benefit' " of learning about it.

When the hearings ended, the subcommittee running them concluded just that. The hearings had produced "credible scientific testimony that indeed there are significant debates about the evidence for key aspects of chemical and biological theory," the panel said, and it is "important and appropriate for students to know about these scientific debates."

Still, scientists who stayed away say they did the right thing.

Declining to testify "can be made to look as if you do not want to defend science in public, or you are too afraid to face the intelligent design people in public," Dr. Miller said.

But, he said, taking part in this kind of argument only contributes to the idea that there is something worth arguing about, and "I wasn't interested in playing a role in that."

Dr. Alan I. Leshner, chief executive of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, said that when the association was invited to present its views at the hearings he raised the issue with his board. Although some members said "go straighten them out," he recalled, the consensus was that the association should stay away.
 
"We were invited to debate one supposed theory against another," Dr. Leshner said, when in fact there was no credible scientific challenge to the theory of evolution.

Dr.
Scott said that until recently she believed scientists should seize opportunities to debate the opponents of evolution. "I was one of the holdouts, saying yes, appear with these guys, yes, tell them what is wrong with their ideas, go to their conferences, treat them like scholars," she said.

Like other scientists, she said that if someone identified a flaw in evolutionary theory that could not be dealt with, science would have to modify the theory or even scrap it. But the criticisms raised have fallen in the face of scientific scrutiny, she and others say, yet opponents of evolution raise them again and again.

So a few years ago, she said, "even I threw in the towel."

"Our willingness to engage their ideas," she went on, "was not being reciprocated."

Dr. West, of the Discovery Institute, argues that scientists have shown the same unwillingness to engage when they talk about evolution. In
Kansas, he said, "there was a sort of arrogance - claiming that 'since we are the majority scientific view we don't owe an explanation to anyone, especially these public officials we think are stupid.'

"Well, they can have that attitude, but whether they like it or not we have public officials who are charged with making decisions," he said. "They seem to think the A.A.A.S. should just appoint a panel and replace every elected school board."

Despite their decision to stay away from
Kansas, scientists continue to make the case for evolution.

For example, a number of scientists, including Dr. Miller, plan to testify in a case in Dover, Pa., where teachers were directed to instruct that intelligent design was a scientific alternative to evolution. "In a court of law, you have standards, rules and laws you are interpreting," Dr.
Scott said, in explaining why scientists are taking part in this case. "In Kansas, it was a free-for-all."

Earlier this month, the National Academy of Sciences started a Web site (nationalacademies.org/evolution) with information about evolution and assurances that no credible scientific challenge to evolutionary theory has been raised. The American Association for the Advancement of Science (aaas.org, click on "evolution resources") and other organizations maintain similar sites.

Dr. Leshner wrote an opinion article about the evolution issue that ran in The Kansas City Star before the hearings were held this spring. The essay dealt with one of the powerful issues underlying the debate about evolution: whether science and religious faith can coexist.

It is not surprising that defenders of evolution are staying away from the hearings, he wrote, "since it's a debate that can't be won."

"After all, interpretations of Genesis are a matter of faith, not facts," he wrote. But faith and facts "should not be pitted against each other; the theory of evolution does not, in fact, conflict with the religious views of most Jewish, Christian, Muslim, Buddhist or Hindu followers."

But some scientists have made the point that it is difficult to make the case for evolution at a time when many Americans view it as an assault by the secular elite on the values of God-fearing people.

"The creation and evolution issue is not just about science," Dr.
Scott said. "The science is necessary but not sufficient. It is ultimately and predominantly a political and cultural kind of issue rather than a scientific issue."

Now that the panel that conducted the hearings has recommended that challenges to evolution be taught in
Kansas, "we may appear to have at least temporarily lost the battle," Dr. Leshner said. "But we have not fallen prey to allowing them to redefine science, and that's the core issue."

He added: "Evolution is not the only issue at stake. The very definition of science is at stake."
 
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Pentagon Creating Student Database
Recruiting Tool for Military Raises Privacy Concerns
Jonathan
Krim, Washington Post, 6/21/05
 
The Defense Department began working yesterday with a private marketing firm to create a database of high school students ages 16 to 18 and all college students to help the military identify potential recruits in a time of dwindling enlistment in some branches.
 
The program is provoking a furor among privacy advocates. The new database will include personal information including birth dates, Social Security numbers, e-mail addresses, grade-point averages, ethnicity and what subjects the students are studying.
 
An entire industry has mushroomed during the past decade because of the ability of companies to gather and make sense of public records, criminal histories and other electronic details. What are they doing with it?
 
The data will be managed by BeNow Inc. of
Wakefield, Mass., one of many marketing firms that use computers to analyze large amounts of data to target potential customers based on their personal profiles and habits.
 
"The purpose of the system . . . is to provide a single central facility within the Department of Defense to compile, process and distribute files of individuals who meet age and minimum school requirements for military service," according to the official notice of the program.
 
Privacy advocates said the plan appeared to be an effort to circumvent laws that restrict the government's right to collect or hold citizen information by turning to private firms to do the work.
 
Some information on high school students already is given to military recruiters in a separate program under provisions of the 2002 No Child Left Behind Act. Recruiters have been using the information to contact students at home, angering some parents and school districts around the country.
 
School systems that fail to provide that information risk losing federal funds, although individual parents or students can withhold information that would be transferred to the military by their districts. John Moriarty, president of the PTA at
Walter Johnson High School in Bethesda, said the issue has "generated a great deal of angst" among many parents participating in an e-mail discussion group.
 
Under the new system, additional data will be collected from commercial data brokers, state drivers' license records and other sources, including information already held by the military.
 
"Using multiple sources allows the compilation of a more complete list of eligible candidates to join the military," according to written statements provided by Pentagon spokeswoman Lt. Col. Ellen Krenke in response to questions. "This program is important because it helps bolster the effectiveness of all the services' recruiting and retention efforts."
 
The Pentagon's statements added that anyone can "opt out" of the system by providing detailed personal information that will be kept in a separate "suppression file." That file will be matched with the full database regularly to ensure that those who do not wish to be contacted are not, according to the Pentagon.
 
But privacy advocates said using database marketers for military recruitment is inappropriate.
 
"We support the
U.S. armed forces, and understand that DoD faces serious challenges in recruiting for the military," a coalition of privacy groups wrote to the Pentagon after notice of the program was published in the Federal Register a month ago. "But . . . the collection of this information is not consistent with the Privacy Act, which was passed by Congress to reduce the government's collection of personal information on Americans."
 
Chris Jay Hoofnagle, West Coast director of the
Electronic Privacy Information Center, called the system "an audacious plan to target-market kids, as young as 16, for military solicitation."
 
He added that collecting Social Security numbers was not only unnecessary but posed a needless risk of identity fraud. Theft of Social Security numbers and other personal information from data brokers, government agencies, financial institutions and other companies is rampant.
 
"What's ironic is that the private sector has ways of uniquely identifying individuals without using Social Security numbers for marketing," he said.
 
The Pentagon statements said the military is "acutely aware of the substantial security required to protect personal data," and that Social Security numbers will be used only to "provide a higher degree of accuracy in matching duplicate data records."
 
The Pentagon said it routinely monitors its vendors to ensure compliance with its security standards.
 
Krenke said she did not know how much the contract with BeNow was worth, or whether it was bid competitively.
 
Officials at BeNow did not return several messages seeking comment. The company's Web site does not have a published privacy policy, nor does it list either a chief privacy officer or security officer on its executive team.
 
According to the Federal Register notice, the data will be open to "those who require the records in the performance of their official duties." It said the data would be protected by passwords.
 
The system also gives the Pentagon the right, without notifying citizens, to share the data for numerous uses outside the military, including with law enforcement, state tax authorities and Congress.
 
Some see the program as part of a growing encroachment of government into private lives, particularly since the
Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.
 
"It's just typical of how voracious government is when it comes to personal information," said James W. Harper, a privacy expert with the Cato Institute, a libertarian think tank. "Defense is an area where government has a legitimate responsibility . . . but there are a lot of data fields they don't need and shouldn't be keeping. Ethnicity strikes me as particularly inappropriate."
 
Yesterday, the New York Times reported that the Social Security Administration relaxed its privacy policies and provided data on citizens to the FBI in connection with terrorism investigations.

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Graduation rates dishonest, group says
BY BEN FELLER, AP, 6/24/05

WASHINGTON -- Most states are reporting lofty high school graduation rates that far exceed reality and mislead the public about how schools are performing, a private analysis found.

The majority of states -- 36 of them -- say 80 percent to 97 percent of their high school students graduate on time, according to state figures provided to the Education Department.

Those numbers show "rampant dishonesty,'' said Kati Haycock, director of the Education Trust, an advocacy organization for poor and minority students. The Trust reviewed the 2002-03 graduation rates that states had to provide this year.

A series of independent analyses shows the graduation rate across the states is closer to 70 percent, meaning almost one-third of students don't finish on time -- or at all.

''Every single day we do this, we further erode public confidence in the notion that public educators can be trusted,'' Haycock said. Earlier this year, the Consortium on Chicago School Research released a study indicating only 54 percent of
Chicago public school students graduated in four years, far less than the 70.7 percent rate the state pinpointed for Chicago.
 
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School Reform Desired
Poll finds most people in the state and nationwide want tougher classes and better teachers
By Jean Merl,
Los Angeles Times Staff Writer, 6/23/05

Fifty-five percent of Californians — and almost half of Americans as a whole — think the nation's public high schools need reforming, and almost one-third of Californians believe students arriving in ninth grade are ill-prepared for high school and struggle to keep up, a poll released Wednesday found.

Only 10% of Californians and 9% of Americans in general said high school students are being significantly challenged by their courses, according to a poll conducted for the nonprofit Educational Testing Service.
 
"Most Americans feel the high school experience is a broken experience," said Kurt Landgraf, the service's president and CEO.

The nationwide survey, which included additional attention to California, New Jersey and Ohio, found strong majorities of Americans want teachers who are proven experts in their subject fields (91%) and favor paying more for qualified teachers even if that requires raising taxes (80%). They also support requiring students to pass a test on core subjects to graduate (80%).

In addition, 77% of Americans surveyed called for more academically rigorous courses for all students, while 71% said there should be wider choices of types of high schools, and 72% called for an individualized course of study for each student. Survey results in
California generally mirrored those nationwide; however, a larger percentage of Californians saw a need for substantial high school reforms (55% to 48% nationwide).

The survey, dubbed "Ready for the Real World? Americans Speak on High School Reform," was conducted in April by Democratic pollster Peter Hart and Republican pollster David Winston. It was the fifth annual survey commissioned by the Educational Testing Service to tap views on education issues.

The poll findings come as educators and political leaders nationwide are debating how to improve public education and lamenting high dropout rates and slow or stagnant improvements in secondary school. In
California, there are efforts in the Legislature to further delay, or even scuttle, the state's high school exit exam for graduation. The governor and a coalition of education groups are also battling over school funding in the state, which trails much of the nation in per-pupil spending.

Under pressure from community activists who feel disadvantaged minorities are being shortchanged, the
Los Angeles Unified School District recently agreed to require every high school student to take a college-prep curriculum. And the district also is attempting to transform all of its high schools — some numbering 5,000 students — into "small learning communities," the latest popular idea for jump-starting improvements at secondary campuses.

Americans care deeply about the quality of their schools and are concerned that, without improvements, the nation will not be able to compete in today's global economy, Landgraf said.

"Americans view our public education system as central to our country's success in the world," he said, but are frustrated by the slow pace of reforms after some two decades of improvement attempts.

The survey found that about half of Americans believe elementary schools should get top priority for new reform efforts.
 
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Teachers paid an average salary of $46,752, survey finds
By Ben Feller, AP Education Writer,
6/24/05 

WASHINGTON --Teachers earned an average of $46,752 last year, a slight raise that did not keep pace with inflation, a teachers' union says.

The average salary increased 2.1 percent in 2003-04, according to state figures compiled by the National Education Association, the country's largest teachers union.

The inflation rate was 3.3 percent in 2004. Since 2000, the raise for teachers has ranged from 2.1 percent to 3.8 percent.

"Teachers should never have to choose between doing what they love and supporting their families," the group's president, Reg Weaver, said Thursday. "We can't continue to ask them to fulfill such an important mission without providing the support they deserve."

Salaries are often seen as an important reason why schools struggle to hire and keep teachers, particularly in subject areas or locations that have frequent shortages of instructors.

State lawmakers, facing financial struggles, have focused on enticing teachers into the hardest-to-fill positions, said Scott Young, a senior policy specialist for the National Conference of State Legislatures.

"There's just not money available to jack up salaries across the board," Young said.

Teachers typically are paid based on their education and seniority. But many districts and states are discussing, or experimenting with, tying pay to performance.

The NEA estimates the average salary will increase 2.1 percent again this year.

Over the past 20 years, the typical teacher's salary has grown $24,150, but adjusted for inflation, it has increased only $2,677, or 11.3 percent, the NEA says.

Over the past decade, 15 states have seen a real decline in average teacher salaries when inflation is factored in, the organization says.

In the most recent year, 2003-04, salaries ranged significantly across the states, accounting for cost of living differences and variations in how salary packages are set up.

The top state,
Connecticut, paid public school teachers an average yearly salary of $57,337. The District of Columbia was next at $57,009.

South Dakota paid the lowest average salary, $33,236, while Oklahoma was next-to-last at $35,061. The NEA got its figures by surveying state education agencies.
 
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FROM “EDUCATION WEEK”

N.J. Panel Recommends Expanding Number of 'Special Needs' Districts
By Catherine Gewertz, Education Week, 6/22/05

An advisory panel to the
New Jersey board of education has recommended that poor rural school districts be considered for designation as “special needs” districts, a move that could obligate the state to provide for those rural systems intensive support similar to what it gives its poorest urban districts.

The June 15 recommendation by the state board’s legal committee represents a significant development in an eight-year legal effort by a group of poor, rural districts. They have argued that they need intensive state help—including more money—similar to that received by 31 urban districts as a result of the ongoing Abbott v. Burke litigation. Decisions in that case require New Jersey to fund its poorest urban districts at the levels of its wealthiest districts, spend billions on school facilities, and provide extra services such as full-day preschool to offset the effects of poverty.

Frederick A. Jacob, a
Millville, N.J., lawyer representing the rural districts in the case, known as Bacon v. New Jersey State Department of Education, said the recommendation is important because it makes clear that smaller rural districts can be as educationally needy as big-city districts. “It’s now decided once and for all that poverty is poverty,” he said in an interview. “It’s poverty that creates educational issues, not urban-ness.”

An administrative law judge decided in December 2002 that only five of the original 17 plaintiff rural districts deserve the special-needs designation. But in February 2003, state Commissioner of Education William L. Librera accepted only one of the five as an Abbott district, bringing the total to 31. Some of the rural districts appealed to the state board of education.

The board’s legal committee concluded that all 17 of the original rural districts in the complaint—and possibly even more poor districts not named in the action—deserve special-needs designation. The panel considered many indicators of financial need, such as the communities’ income levels and tax burdens, and educational need, such as their large class sizes, limited academic programming, and high truancy rates.

“We can only conclude that the students of these districts are not being afforded a thorough and efficient education” as required by state law, the panel said. “… The conditions under which these students live mirror those of the students in the Abbott districts, which in some cases are only blocks away.”

The panel said the state must devote additional resources to the poor, rural districts, but stopped short of specifying what level of aid or specific programs should be provided. Instead, it proposes that the commissioner undertake individual assessments of each district’s needs and report back to the board of education in December.

Attorneys in the case said the state board was scheduled to consider the legal committee’s report in July.

No Quick Fix

Despite the committee’s strong conclusions, no change in the Abbott designations could occur quickly. Changes would have to be approved by the board of education, and could be taken to the state court system by the districts on appeal.

State officials declined to comment on the legal committee’s report, saying it would be inappropriate to do so before it had been considered by the board. But David G. Sciarra, the lead attorney for the plaintiffs in the Abbott case, said the recommendation in Bacon “opens the door to the next big set of challenges, which is how to expand the Abbott remedies to other districts statewide.”

The panel’s recommendation comes as the state is actively trying to revise the criteria by which it designates Abbott districts.

Mr. Librera last week submitted to the legislature a proposal that would require a stricter showing of financial need by districts in order to be eligible. He made the same recommendation in 2003, but it was not adopted by the legislature. A legislative analysis at that time found that 13 districts would lose their designation as Abbott districts, but Mr. Librera said that analysis overlooked the indicators of educational adequacy that must be examined under his revised criteria. Considering both financial and educational factors, he said, could remove three to eight districts from the current Abbott list.

He said in an interview last week that Abbott designations are not meant to exist “in perpetuity,” and that some districts’ financial health and educational attainment has changed sufficiently to warrant their removal. Abbott remedies, he said, should not be the only mechanism through which the state assists districts in particular need.

“We continue to think of ourselves as the laboratory in the country for this kind of decision,” Mr. Librera said, “including the struggles that go along with it, how you deal with criteria, how you deal with [districts’] progress, how you deal with changes in this.”

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Complaint Filed Against Reading Initiative
Success for All Officials Request Investigation of Federal Program
By Kathleen Kennedy Manzo, Education Week

Washington - The Success for All Foundation has asked the inspector general of the U.S. Department of Education to investigate the $1 billion-a-year federal Reading First program for alleged mismanagement and seeming preferential treatment of a handful of consultants and products.

“We believe that the federal government enabled a small group of individuals to direct significant federal resources to a small group of companies, thus both restricting our ability to trade and subverting the explicit intent and language of the Reading First statute,” the complaint submitted May 27 by Success for All founder Robert E. Slavin says.

While Mr. Slavin calls the Reading First legislation “sound” and “well intentioned,” he contends in the complaint that “the program itself has been badly mismanaged, and as a result, many fewer children are likely to experience reading success.”

Success for All, developed in 1987, is aimed at preventing and remedying reading problems in the early grades through a schoolwide improvement approach. It is used in 1,100 schools in 46 states.

Research-Based

The nonprofit program has perhaps the most extensive research base of any reading program, with more than 50 experimental-control studies. Last month, a federal study found it to be effective in raising reading achievement.

Despite such scientific evidence—which is a core tenet of the Reading First legislation—Success for All, based at
Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, has struggled to maintain its hold in schools that applied for federal reading grants under the 3-year-old initiative. While 200 schools signed on in 2001—the year before the first distribution of Reading First money—and the foundation added staff members to support those schools, participation has slipped by several hundred schools over the last couple of years. Only five Reading First schools are new to the Success for All program.

Mr. Slavin said that school officials around the country have told him they felt pressure from state officials and federal reviewers to drop Success for All in order to qualify for Reading First funds, even though the legislation does not require or prohibit any specific texts. The foundation has had to lay off some 300 staff members since Reading First took effect.

The complaint to the inspector general charges that the Reading First program, which is planning to distribute $6 billion over six years, has promoted a narrow definition of “scientifically based research,” encourages the use of basal textbooks by big publishers, requires an unscientific and untested instructional model, and relies on the work of consultants with ties to the commercial products that are being used by participating schools and districts.

“We really believe in what we are doing, and we believe in the power of research to really produce change in reading instruction,” Mr. Slavin said in an interview here last week. “[Reading First] is disassembling, tearing down, not only our program but that concept.”

Susan Aspey, a spokeswoman for the Education Department, would not comment on the complaint.

Criticism Widespread

The International Reading Association, based in Newark-Del., and the Washington-based Association of American Publishers have received numerous complaints similar to those outlined in the one submitted to the inspector general.

In 2002, for example, the AAP complained to federal education officials of a widespread perception that states selecting certain reading programs would be more likely to win the grants. Then-Secretary of Education Rod Paige issued a statement saying no approved list of programs or products existed. But the complaints from publishers and educators have continued.

“The way the implementation proceeded, it was, in fact, a boon for publishers, and a select group of publishers, it seems,” said IRA President Richard A. Allington. He has been critical of what he sees as conflicts of interest in the use of advisers in the Reading First program who also earn royalties on the reading texts, assessments, and consulting work that participating schools have used.

Other experts agree that the federal government seems to favor a small group of scholars. But it is unclear if those experts have been singled out by federal officials or if they’ve simply “gotten their way through persistence,” G. Michael Pressley, a professor of education at
Michigan State University and a former editor of the Journal of Educational Psychology, wrote last week in an e-mail to Education Week.

Those experts generally “did their job well and fairly” in working with states and schools in Reading First and recused themselves from conversations about the products they had a hand in devising, he added. Some individuals, however, “did lobby hard for particular products, including ones that they had some connection to,” Mr. Pressley maintained.

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Guide Seeks New Clarity on Tutoring
Ed. Dept. Spells Out Roles For States, School Districts
By Catherine Gewertz, Education Week, 6/22/05

In an attempt to respond to confusion about—or resistance to—the tutoring requirements of the No Child Left Behind Act, the U.S. Department of Education issued guidance last week outlining what it expects states and school districts to do in supplying the help to needy children.

The department issued the nonregulatory guidance in the wake of mounting questions about who should implement various parts of the law, and how. The 55-page document marks the first update since August 2003 of guidance on the free “supplemental educational services” that districts must offer to poor children in schools that have failed to make enough academic progress for three years in a row.

Key areas covered include those that have sparked high-profile disagreements between the federal government and states or districts, and those that have prompted ethical questions.

For example, districts found to be “in need of improvement” after they have begun serving as tutors must stop using federal Title I money to do so by the end of the semester in which they are notified of their status, the guidance says. The
Chicago school district faced off with the Education Department over that issue earlier this year, but agreed to use other money to keep its tutoring program afloat.

The new guidance disappointed large urban districts that had hoped for more flexibility in being allowed to operate tutoring programs, even though they had failed to meet state benchmarks for adequate yearly progress, said Michael D. Casserly, the executive director of the Council of the Great City Schools, a Washington-based advocacy group.

“It is a major setback that we are very troubled by,” Mr. Casserly wrote in an e-mail.

Nina S. Rees, the assistant deputy secretary in charge of the Education Department’s office of innovation and improvement, said in an interview that the issuance of the new guidance was driven in part by the need to more clearly define states’ and districts’ roles in tutoring programs. States must approve tutoring providers, who then contract with districts to operate their programs. Providers market themselves to parents, who then enroll their children.

“One key area that was very clear to us was the fact that districts were involved in activities that were the states’ responsibility,” she said.

Teacher Qualifications

While districts designated as in need of improvement can’t run their own supplemental-services programs, individual schools in those districts may do so if they have not been similarly labeled, the new guidance says. The new guidance clarifies that providers are free to employ teachers in districts or schools in need of improvement, but states may not require providers to hire teachers who are considered “highly qualified” under the No Child Left Behind law.

One new section in the guidance arose from concerns about how to ensure ethical business practices by private companies or groups that provide tutoring. The special commissioner of investigation for the
New York City school district is probing some companies’ allegedly improper use of inducements to persuade families to choose those providers’ programs.

The Education Department suggests that states adopt policies governing the use of financial incentives or gifts by providers. It says states “might want to allow” them to offer “nominal” incentives to parents for attending information sessions or provider fairs, or to students for attending tutoring sessions regularly or performing well.

But states “might want to prohibit” providers from giving incentives to students or parents for enrolling in their programs, or to schools for signing up students for those programs, the guidance says. States should make sure, it says, that providers don’t engage in false advertising or give “kickbacks” to district or school officials who encourage parents to choose their programs.

States also must make sure that districts don’t adopt practices that favor their own programs, or those of certain providers, such as giving some tutors free space in school buildings, the document says.

Steven Pines, the executive director of the Education Industry Association, a
Potomac, Md.-based group that represents private education companies, praised the Education Department for offering guidelines on, among other matters, how states might decide whether providers applying for approval have a “demonstrated record of effectiveness,” and how to judge their proposed pay rates and program designs.

“This provides important clarity for all the various actors in this important system,” Mr. Pines said.

Much of the new guidance details what states should do in implementing and monitoring tutoring programs, and what districts should not do.

States, for instance, may establish program-design criteria in such areas as student-tutor ratios and acceptable fees. But they must take care to set forth ranges, rather than specifying figures, to ensure a “balanced variety of programs” in the market and maximum parental choice. States must also be able to document that districts are meeting the demand for tutoring before districts are allowed to reallocate Title I funds intended for that purpose.

The guidance wades into the debate about how states should evaluate providers’ effectiveness, saying they could consider academic gains of students in the program. But it does not define what measures might be used to determine those gains. States could also consider whether providers delivered the programs promised in their application, and what parents and students thought about the programs, it says.

States may ask districts to supply data to be used in evaluating providers. But in cases where districts themselves are also providers, states might want to avoid involving districts in the process because it could create a conflict of interest, the guidance says.

Districts may not interfere with state-approved providers’ program designs or pass judgment on the effectiveness of providers working in their schools. They may not refuse to let a state-approved provider work with their students, even if they have concerns about program design, the department says.

Informing Parents

The guidance outlines roles for both states and districts in making sure parents are informed about tutoring. States could work with parent groups to get the word out, encourage districts to hold provider fairs, and consider developing a uniform contract that all districts could use to avoid districts “marginalizing” some providers, the document says.

Districts’ responsibilities in parent outreach are greatly expanded and detailed in the new guidance. They should “entice” parents to sign their children up for tutoring, it says, by clearly explaining programs’ availability and benefits and undertaking an intensive publicity campaign using letters home, radio and television ads, or notices in shopping malls or houses of worship. The guidance also suggests that districts set up telephone help lines to answer questions.

Some observers said last week that the guidance maximizes states’ and providers’ authority over tutoring at the expense of districts’. Mr. Casserly called it “one more nail in the coffin of local control of schools.”

Jack Jennings, the president of the Center on Education Policy, a Washington-based research group that is tracking the implementation of the 3-year-old No Child Left Behind Act, praised the guidance as being “detailed and useful.” But he said the distribution of responsibilities and restrictions “leaves districts at the bottom of the heap.”

“This guidance is not oriented toward helping school districts improve themselves,” said Mr. Jennings, a former top Democratic congressional aide on education. “It’s oriented toward helping providers provide services.”

States’ responsibilities for the program are broad, he noted, but many states, especially large ones, lack the resources to monitor districts and evaluate providers the way the law and guidance envision.

Kay Kammel, who oversees
Florida’s supplemental services as the chief of the state department of education’s bureau of family and community outreach, said with a laugh that reviewing the list of state duties in the new guidance “made me think we might need a larger staff.”

She and two other employees manage the state’s responsibilities for supplemental services in the 11 districts that offered such services this school year. But that oversight will expand next year, as 66 of the state’s 67 districts are likely to be required to offer tutoring, she said.

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States Raise Bar for High School Diploma
By
Lynn Olson, Education Week, 6/22/05
 
It has been less than six months since the nation’s governors gathered for a summit on high schools, and already at least half a dozen states have enacted policies that require students to complete tougher academic programs to earn a diploma.

Although
Arizona lawmakers voted to give high school seniors added flexibility in passing the state’s exit exam, states typically are sending a stricter message by telling students they must take more courses in mathematics, science, and other core academic areas.

The flurry of activity is evidence that demands for making high school more rigorous, which state and business leaders echoed at the Feb. 26-27 conference, have gained traction in the states.

“The number of states that have moved, just in this legislative session, to increase graduation requirements is clearly based on the momentum coming out of the summit,” said Matthew Gandal, the executive vice president of Achieve Inc., a Washington-based nonprofit group that co-sponsored the Washington event along with the National Governors Association. “I see that continuing to build.”
 
On June 7, Oklahoma Gov. Brad Henry, a Democrat, signed the Achieving Classroom Excellence measure, which requires all high school students to take a college-bound curriculum, starting in 2006-07, unless their parents sign an opt-out consent form.

The legislation, which passed with bipartisan support, also increases current graduation requirements to include three years of high school mathematics at or above the level of Algebra 1. Starting with entering 9th graders in 2008, students must pass four out of six end-of-instruction tests in core academic subjects to receive a diploma. To encourage high school seniors to take college courses, the plan requires the state to pay tuition for up to six hours of college instruction per semester.

Gov. Henry said his initiative, which had strong backing from the business community, “pushes students to take a tougher academic workload to better prepare them for life after high school.”

Indiana also enacted legislation that requires students to complete a college-preparatory curriculum—known as the “Core 40”—to earn a diploma, beginning with the class of 2011. As in Oklahoma, parents would have to request that their children be exempted from the requirement. Students with disabilities would follow the recommendations in their individualized education plan.

Starting with the class of 2011, with some exceptions, students would have to complete the Core 40 curriculum for admission to
Indiana’s four-year public colleges.

Indiana is one of 13 states that joined the American Diploma Project Network at the summit. States in the Achieve-managed project commit to preparing all students for work and college, in part by raising graduation standards. This month, Achieve announced five new members— Alabama, Minnesota, Mississippi, North Carolina, and Oklahoma—bringing the total to 18.

Rigor and Relevance

Gov. Rod R. Blagojevich of
Illinois, a Democrat, also made strengthening graduation standards one of his top legislative priorities.

Under his High Standards, Better Schools plan, which passed the Senate by 56-0 and the House by 104-10, students will have to take a third year of math (including algebra and geometry), two years of science, four years of English, and two years of “writing intensive” courses to earn a diploma.

Oregon lawmakers similarly are considering boosting the number of math and English courses needed to graduate.

In
Mississippi, the state board of education in April passed a plan that increases graduation requirements for all students, beginning with 9th graders in the fall of 2008. Under the plan, students will have to complete four years each of English, math, science, and social studies to earn a diploma, including two years of math beyond Algebra 1, at least one laboratory-based science course, and economics.

The state has been revising the actual content of its high school curriculum since 2004, when an independent study by the Washington-based Council for Basic Education concluded that the curriculum lacked rigor.

South Carolina, in contrast, has not increased the credits needed to graduate. Instead, the Education and Economic Development Act of 2005, signed by Republican Gov. Mark Sanford in May, will reorganize the curriculum around “career clusters of study,” such as health science, information technology, and finance.

State Superintendent of Education Inez Tenenbaum said: “This is about helping students see the importance of the skills they’re learning. If they can apply those skills to real-life situations, then it’s more likely that they will buy into what our schools are trying to accomplish.”

The law also requires the state to provide more guidance counselors to work with students and their parents to explore career interests and plan for the future. It calls for an average of 300 students per counselor by the 2006-07 school year, instead of the current average of 500 students.

Model Core Curricula

Other states are working on model high school curricula that provide students with better preparation for work and college.

Legislation signed by Democratic Gov. Tom Vilsack of
Iowa this month requires the state board of education to devise a model core curriculum. The bill also sets a goal that 80 percent of Iowa graduates, excluding special education students, successfully complete a core curriculum by July 1, 2009.

The law requires districts to report publicly on the percent of graduates who complete a core curriculum. Beginning in July 2006, every district must develop a plan with each 8th grader for completing a core curriculum in high school and report to the student and his or her parents each year on progress.

“There was some concern that we just, literally, didn’t know with certain kids what kinds of classes they were taking,” said Jeff Berger, a legislative liaison in the state department of education.

The
Delaware education department also is working on a model curriculum that would better prepare students for college or technical careers. The state plans to assist interested districts in doing a “gap analysis” to see how well their requirements align with the state’s model curriculum, and it will provide professional development for teachers.

Delaware lawmakers also scrapped a three-tiered diploma system, which was never implemented, after many parents voiced concern that the lowest-level diploma, intended for students who did not pass state tests, would have little value in the marketplace.

Instead,
Delaware will offer two types of diplomas for the classes of 2006 and 2007: a “standard” diploma and a “distinguished” diploma. In addition to meeting course requirements, the latter will be based on a combination of state test scores and other academic indicators, which are still being determined. Beginning with the class of 2008, the state will offer only one type of diploma for all students.

Reprieve in
Arizona

In contrast to the ratcheting up that is going on in many states,
Arizona has temporarily lowered its graduation requirements.

In March, the state board of education reduced the passing scores for the Arizona Instrument to Measure Standards, or AIMS, tests that students must pass to graduate, beginning with the class of 2006.

Then in May, lawmakers voted to permit students scheduled to graduate in 2006 and 2007 to apply grades of A, B, or C in some high school courses toward their scores on the tests in reading, writing, and math. The extra points can count for up to 25 percent of a student’s AIMS scores.

Amy Rezzonico, a spokeswoman for the state education department, said this month that the specifics were still being worked out by the state school board.

Tom Horne,
Arizona’s state superintendent of schools, opposed any lowering of the requirements and has requested a state attorney general’s opinion on which coursework might apply. The state board was tentatively scheduled to discuss the plan last week.

In
California, bills to delay the high-stakes exit exam for students in low-performing schools and to permit districts to give alternative assessments have been diluted since their introduction.

Assembly Bill 1531 now would not authorize the use of any alternatives objected to by the superintendent of public instruction. Senate Bill 517 would require the state to certify that students in low-performing high schools had access to the minimal resources needed to pass the tests, such as certified teachers, counselors, adequate textbooks, and supplementary instruction. It also would require the state to study alternatives to the exit test.

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Friedman Foundation Marks 50 Years Since Voucher Idea
By Caroline Hendrie, Education Week, 6/22/05

A half-century after he made his now-famous proposal to privatize the nation’s education system, the economist Milton Friedman predicts that his vision of vouchers for all will become a reality before another 50 years have passed.
 
“I won’t be around to see it, but I would be amazed if you did not have an almost complete termination of the government running schools,” the Nobel laureate and senior research fellow at the Hoover Institution at
Stanford University said in an interview last week. “I would be surprised if 50 years from now, you don’t have universal vouchers.”

Mr. Friedman, 92, made education policy history in 1955 when he called for giving parents vouchers to spend on the public or private schools of their choice in “The Role of Government in Education,” an essay published in the journal Economics and the Public Interest.

Forty-one years later, he and his wife, Rose, formed the Milton and Rose D. Friedman Foundation with a mission of “promoting school choice to improve, through competition, the quality of K-12 education for all.”

This week, the foundation is set to mark the 50th anniversary of Mr. Friedman’s proposal with a fund-raising gala in
New York City on June 22 featuring former U.S. Secretary of State Henry A. Kissinger and Alan Greenspan, the chairman of the Federal Reserve Board. Mr. and Mrs. Friedman are slated to take questions from the audience on school choice.

Surveying the education landscape in an interview last week, the economist and stalwart champion of the free market said he views the trend as positive, even though school choice legislation suffered more defeats than victories this year in state legislatures.

Still, he said, change is “much too slow.”

“The number of students using vouchers and being schooled under choice programs is larger this year than it was last, larger last year than the year before that, and so on,” he said. “But it’s still very small.”

A Dead End?

Mr. Friedman has long argued that voucher programs targeting only poor families would end up as poor programs. And so while he supports programs like those in
Milwaukee and the District of Columbia, which give vouchers to low-income families for tuition at secular or religious private schools, he worries about the precedent they have set.

“If their example of restricting vouchers to low-income families alone is followed, the whole movement will soon come to a dead end,” he said. “If indeed the voucher program is viewed as a charity program and not as an education program, it doesn’t have a future.”

In a case that many analysts see as important to that future, the Florida Supreme Court heard arguments this month in a lawsuit contending that a voucher program there violates the state constitution’s ban on aid to religious institutions. Mr. Friedman called such constitutional restrictions, which are often called
Blaine amendments, “a very severe obstacle.”

But he left it to others to decide if school choice proponents should seek to have such provisions stricken from state constitutions. “It’s a question of costs and probabilities,” he said.

As for the federal No Child Left Behind Act, the centerpiece of President Bush’s education agenda, Mr. Friedman sees the 3-year-old law as a “mixed bag.”

While he favors the law’s focus on standards and accountability, he said was disappointed that it did not include Mr. Bush’s original proposal to allow children in underperforming schools to transfer to private schools as well as other public schools.

“You can only really have accountability if you have competition and choice,” Mr. Friedman said.

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ETS Poll Finds Support for Changes to High Schools
By Karla Scoon Reid, Education Week, 6/22/05

Most Americans believe that high school students aren’t being significantly challenged by their studies, a national poll scheduled for release this week concludes.

The survey by the Educational Testing Service found that only 9 percent of the general public believes that high schools set high academic expectations for students. Almost a third said students aren’t challenged at all, while more than half believe that students are “somewhat” challenged.

The study, “Ready for the Real World? Americans Speak on High School Reform,” polled 2,250 adults, including 371 parents of high school students and a total of 666 parents of K-12 students. In addition, the ETS separately surveyed 300 high school administrators and 300 high school teachers.

The survey, set for release June 22, found that 5 percent of the general public and 9 percent of the high school teachers surveyed believe high schools are working “very” or “pretty” well, while 30 percent of the general public polled believe that major changes are needed. A majority of those polled support a variety of measures to improve high schools, including making sure teachers are experts in the subjects they teach, requiring exit exams, and increasing taxes to raise teachers’ salaries

Democratic pollster Peter D. Hart and Republican pollster David Winston conducted the telephone survey for the ETS in April. The poll has a margin of error of 3.1 percentage points among the general public; 3.8 for parents of K-12 students; 5.1 for parents of high school students; and 5.66 for high school teachers.

The survey is the fifth annual poll of Americans’ attitudes toward public education sponsored by the ETS, the nonprofit educational testing and research organization in
Princeton, N.J., that produces the SAT and other admissions and professional exams.

Allan Rivlin, a lead researcher for the survey, said the findings show that many Americans believe high school students should face high expectations regardless of whether they plan to attend college. Americans want high schools to make sure that students are prepared for “whatever life throws at them,” he said.

High Expectations

The survey comes as a number of states are placing new academic demands on high school students.

The poll also found that the public’s awareness of the federal No Child Left Behind Act has almost doubled, from 31 percent saying they had heard either a “great deal” or a “fair amount” about the law in 2001 to 61 percent this year. And although a growing percentage of Americans have a favorable view of the 3-year-old law, an overwhelming majority of high school teachers polled hold unfavorable opinions about it.

Almost half of the general public, or 42 percent, support applying the law’s strategies to raise standards and increase accountability at the high school level. A majority of the high school teachers polled oppose such a move.

Mr. Rivlin, who also is a senior vice president for Hart Research in
Washington, noted that the public is still divided about the No Child Left Behind Act. Although more Americans appear to be in favor of the law, he said, significant opposition remains, and many people continue to be unaware of what the legislation means.

Society Faulted

Indeed, 64 percent of the members of the general public and 88 percent of the teachers surveyed believe that “the broader society” is the chief cause of problems facing high schools. The public also points to the scarcity of resources, lack of student preparedness, and low academic standards.

Most parents polled said that a high school education should prepare students to continue their educations in college, technical, or a trade school.

Parents, teachers, and administrators favor a comprehensive and rigorous academic foundation that all students should complete in high school. Ninety-five percent of the members of the general public surveyed support at least one year of computer science, 85 percent favor four years of English, and 81 percent three years of history and civics. Seventy-three percent back four years of mathematics, and 69 percent support three years of science.

Yet, 64 percent of the general public, and 70 percent of teachers, support placing a greater emphasis on “real-world learning” by encouraging student participation in work-study programs, community service, and vocational courses to improve high schools.


In addition, 57 percent of the general public and 64 percent of the teachers surveyed believe that seniors should be allowed to spend less time in class if they qualify to take part in work-study and job-training programs, or if they enroll in college classes.

Naomi G. Housman, the director of the National High School Alliance at the Institute for Educational Leadership in
Washington, said the poll’s findings indicate that Americans would like to see high schools be more flexible in how they educate students.

“We’re looking at helping every student reach their maximum potential in a way that is going to work for [each] student,” she said, adding that she sees a growing awareness that all students need rigorous coursework and hands-on learning experiences to be successful in college and at work.

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Conn. Attorney General Says NCLB Lawsuit Still A Go
By Caroline Hendrie, Education Week

Connecticut Attorney General Richard Blumenthal hasn’t yet found the kind of high-level backing he wants for his planned legal challenge to the federal No Child Left Behind Act, but he insisted last week that he remains “absolutely” committed to filing the threatened suit.

Mr. Blumenthal captured national attention when he announced in early April that
Connecticut would become the first state to sue the U.S. Department of Education over its implementation of the NCLB law.

The suit, which he said at the time was “imminent,” would argue that the department was illegally imposing unfunded mandates on the state, in violation of a provision of the law itself.

Since then, the suit has not materialized, and no other state has announced that it will team up with
Connecticut, as Mr. Blumenthal had hoped. And his own state’s board of education and legislature have not yet signed on.

“We have no self-imposed deadline for filing suit,” the elected Democrat said by e-mail last week. But he added: “As long as the federal government insists on imposing any unfunded mandates under the No Child Left Behind Act, we plan to take legal action.”

In the meantime,
Connecticut state Education Commissioner Betty J. Sternberg and members of her staff are negotiating with the federal department over the state’s requests for waivers of some of the law’s requirements, most notably in testing.

Mr. Blumenthal said that he was awaiting the outcome of a revised waiver request that the state submitted May 27, but that he doubted it would head off a lawsuit.

Ms. Sternberg said in an interview last week that as talks between her department and the federal agency have dragged on, her initial reluctance to support legal action has waned.

Among other requests, the state has proposed not doing full-blown state-level testing of students in grades 3, 5, and 7, even though the federal law requires such testing each year in grades 3-8, and one grade of high school.

“I’ve been trying and trying and trying to point toward what I believe are rational requests, based on research, and I’ve been frustrated by the lack of flexibility,” Ms. Sternberg said. “Maybe it has to be vetted out in a different venue, and maybe that venue has to be the courts.”

Not all of Ms. Sternberg’s bosses feel the same. The state board of education considered a resolution to endorse Mr. Blumenthal’s suit, but tabled it June 1 because the board’s eight sitting members were evenly split. The board has one vacancy.

Allan Taylor, the board’s chairman, said last week that reasons for wanting to hold off included the hope that the state-federal talks would pan out and the fear that “the federal Department of Education would retaliate against the state.”

Still, Mr. Taylor said the board backs Ms. Sternberg’s stance against what she calls “dumbing down”
Connecticut’s testing regimen. The testing program, administered in grades 4, 6, 8, and 10, features a costly writing component that federal officials say goes beyond NCLB requirements.

Susan Aspey, a spokeswoman for the U.S. Education Department, said last week that, as it prepares a response to the May 27 letter, agency officials “continue to converse directly with the state to address its alarming achievement gap, which is among the largest in the nation.”

Meanwhile, a bill to endorse Mr. Blumenthal’s suit cleared the state Senate June 2. But it died when the House failed to take it up before the regular session ended six days later. Some supporters say they hope to resurrect the bill in a special budget-related session slated to start this week. But Laurence C. Grotheer, the press secretary to Sen. Thomas P. Gaffey, a Democrat and the sponsor of the Senate bill, said he would be very surprised if the measure was revived this year.

‘Very Serious Matter’

Still, the attorney general said last week that he would probably not file suit until after the special session. “It is important to provide an opportunity to other state officials to support and join this important court battle,” he said.

After consulting with Mr. Blumenthal’s office, the Connecticut Association of Public School Superintendents asked local schools chiefs on June 13 to seek votes on endorsing the lawsuit from their boards of education. As of June 16, five of the state’s 168 local boards had done so, and more were expected to follow suit, said David H. Larson, the association’s executive director.

Mr. Blumenthal is also seeking allies beyond
Connecticut, and last week said other states “are actively considering joining the suit.” He added that “published reports indicate that at least 15 states are investigating the matter.”

Among those hoping that more states will jump in is Rosemary Coyle, the president of the
Connecticut affiliate of the National Education Association. The Connecticut Education Association is among nine NEA state affiliates that are part of a federal lawsuit the 2.7 million-member teachers’ union filed in April against U.S. Secretary of Education Margaret Spellings over the No Child Left Behind law.

“The more that states look at the law and address the issues, the better chances we have to change the things that we have in the law that need to be changed,” Ms. Coyle said, adding that she didn’t mind Mr. Blumenthal’s delay in filing suit.

“You have to take whatever time is necessary,” she said. “This is a very serious matter.”

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Ed. Dept. Seeks Comment on IDEA Rules
Proposed Regulations Address Discipline, Teacher Qualifications
By Christina A. Samuels, Education Week, 6/22/05

The Department of Education has released proposed regulations for the Individuals With Disabilities Education Act that seek to clarify the rules on highly qualified special education teachers, identification of students with learning disabilities, and the discipline of students in special education.

The department released the text of the proposed rules on its Web site June 10, leaving educators and advocates in the field a week to cram before officials took to the road for a series of public hearings on the proposed rules.

The clock will not start ticking on the 75-day comment period until the rules are published in the Federal Register, which was expected by early this week. That would give interested parties until some time in September to make comments. Education Department officials say their goal is to release final regulations by December.

Many observers said last week they were still digesting the proposed rules, which totaled a hefty 650 double-spaced pages in the version posted on the department’s Web site. However, some credited the department for producing proposed rules faster than the last time around, which was two years after the 1997 reauthorization of the IDEA. Congress approved the latest version of the main special education law in November.

“We’re certainly pleased the department is acting quickly to implement the law,” said Alexa Marrero, a spokeswoman for Republicans on the House Education and the Workforce Committee.

“My hat’s off to them,” said Bruce Hunter, the chief lobbyist for the Arlington, Va.-based American Association of School Administrators. “To get the [proposed regulations] out this fast is a massive feat.”

Helpful Input

Troy R. Justesen, the acting director of the Education Department’s office of special education programs, said the department was seeking feedback on several issues, among them the provisions for determining “highly qualified” teachers under the IDEA, and the changes in responsibility for students with special education needs who are placed in private schools by their parents.

The department would also like comments on the part of the regulations intended to help schools determine whether students have learning disabilities.

The revised IDEA requires that special education teachers be highly qualified in every subject they teach, which has been a concern for some teachers who instruct students in more than one subject.

Another provision of the law says that a school district must provide some special education services to out-of-district students who attend private schools within that district. The provision is a change from the previous version of the law, which said that a district was responsible only for students who lived in the district.

Mr. Justesen, who said his team had been working on the regulations seven days a week since late December, said he believes the proposed rules do a good job of hewing to the wishes of the drafters of the law.

“It isn’t my role to try and write law,” he said. “My role is to explain and make useful what the president and Congress wanted to do.”

The development of the proposed regulations was aided by an unusual but successful series of informal public meetings sponsored by the Education Department, which netted thousands of comments, Mr. Justesen said.

“That had never been done before, and I think it turned out well,” he said. “Sometimes we would be thinking something was one way, and as soon as we got outside the [Capital] Beltway, we found out we were completely wrong.”

Mr. Hunter of the AASA, who had read the proposed rules through at least once, said he was pleased to see that they appeared to match in large part the language of the reauthorized IDEA approved by Congress.

However, the proposed rules maintains a state complaint procedure that Mr. Hunter said was part of the 1999 regulations but is not reflected in the IDEA statute itself. The complaint procedure makes extra work for school districts, he said.

“The lawyers apparently found some legal rationale to bring it forward,” he said.

Christopher P. Borreca, a Houston lawyer who represents school districts in special education matters, said he had not reviewed the entire set of proposed regulations, but he took issue with one that says a child in special education has had a change in school placement under the IDEA if there have been a series of short-term removals from the classroom that represent a pattern.

“I don’t think there’s a statutory basis for this,” Mr. Borreca said. “It’s an attempt to placate interest groups who were concerned that school districts would abuse the provisions that were in the law.”

Informal Efforts

But Janeen Steel, the director of the
Western Law Center for Disability Rights’ Learning Rights Project, said she would be looking for such protections when she reviewed the regulations. The project, based in Los Angeles, teaches parents their rights under the IDEA and represents parents in special education disputes.

The reauthorized IDEA requires districts and parents to engage in informal efforts to resolve problems before they go to formal due-process hearings. Ms. Steel said she hopes the regulations make it clear that someone in power has to be a part of those informal meetings. Too often, she said, a meeting is held, but any potential solutions are deferred.

“No one’s willing to make decisions,” Ms. Steel said. “It’s not supposed to happen that way.”

The Education Department’s first hearing on the proposed regulations was scheduled for late last week in
Nashville, Tenn. The next was scheduled for June 22 in Sacramento, Calif.

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Religious Groups Jump at Chance to Offer NCLB Tutoring
By Michelle R. Davis, Education Week, 6/22/05

Before
Pleasant Hill Missionary Baptist Church began tutoring students under the No Child left Behind Act three years ago, Bible readings were a common part of its study sessions.

Though the
Providence, Ky., church believes strongly in its religious mission, now that it is helping students in reading and math under the federal education law, its tutoring is purely secular.

Pleasant Hill is one of an increasing number of faith-based organizations to become providers of supplemental educational services under the law. Of endeavors funded by the Department of Education, supplemental services has attracted the largest number of religious groups, Nina S. Rees, the assistant deputy secretary for the department’s office of innovation and improvement, said in a June 2 speech in Baltimore.

Samara Yudof, a department spokeswoman, added that when it comes to tutoring, “historically, many faith-based and community organizations have provided these services at their own expense and are well suited to the program.”
 
Seminars Have Paid Off

Since 2001, when President Bush formed the White House Center for Faith-Based and Community Initiatives, with offshoots in agencies including the Education Department, the administration has pushed to increase the participation of religious organizations in federal programs. Mr. Bush has said such groups are well equipped to provide community services such as drug counseling and tutoring, but that traditionally they had not been encouraged to apply for federal funding.

Since then, the Education Department’s faith-based office has sponsored seminars nationwide to encourage religious groups to dip their toes into the federal grant pool. The efforts have paid off.

In January 2003, only 2 percent of the 771 NCLB supplemental-services providers on state-approved lists were faith-based organizations. By December 2004, the proportion had increased to 15 percent, Ms. Yudof said.

Under the law, students in Title I schools that have not met achievement goals after two years are permitted to transfer to other public schools. They are eligible for free tutoring after their schools have failed to make adequate progress for three years straight.

To provide tutoring services, faith-based groups must agree to avoid what the law calls “inherently religious activities” during such sessions, and must provide the tutoring to students regardless of their religious beliefs. Groups can still provide tutoring within a church or other religious building.

Pleasant Hill Missionary Baptist Church hasn’t found the rules hard to comply with, said Mona Simms, the director of the Kentucky church’s tutoring program. While the church was tutoring students in the community for six years before getting involved in the federal program, Ms. Simms trained her staff to make sure they understood the new boundaries, she said. Her program served about 35 students under the No Child Left Behind law this past school year.

“Our main goal is to insist that the kids learn,” Ms. Simms said. In fact, it was the local, 450-student
Providence school district that approached the church and asked it to become a supplemental-services provider, she said.

She said that many of the students who come to the church for tutoring do often wind up there on Sundays for religious services. And others just soak up a dose of respectful behavior.

“It’s kind of like a subliminal message,” she said.

That message makes some uncomfortable. Barry W.
Lynn, the executive director of the Washington-based Americans United for Separation of Church and State, said while Education Department rules say overt religiosity is prohibited in tutoring programs, the Bush administration’s backing of faith-based groups communicates something different.

“This can be a very convenient way for religious organizations to get access to a large number of new potential churchgoers,” Mr.
Lynn said. “Sometimes a wink is almost as powerful as a memo that says it’s OK to try to convert these kids.”

Delivering Gains

Parents don’t have to choose faith-based providers of tutoring under the federal law. Each state maintains a list of approved providers that includes both faith-based and secular organizations. A provider receives money only after a parent has chosen it.


The supplemental-services program has succeeded in attracting faith-based groups, some of which have been reluctant to move into the federal arena, where funding has strings attached.

Many churches are already providing tutoring to students and have relationships with families in the community, said the Rev. David W. Craig, the pastor at
Mount Pilgrim Missionary Baptist Church in Fairfield, Ala.

His church was not put off by having to set its religious mission aside during tutoring.

“If we get them up to par with their reading and math, then they can read the Bible on their own,” he said. “That was our goal.”

But Steven Pines, the executive director of the Education Industry Association, a
Potomac, Md.-based group that represents for-profit education companies, including those that provide supplemental services under the No Child Left Behind Act, said while faith-based groups may be well positioned to forge relationships with schools and students, it “doesn’t mean they’re great education providers.”

“At the end of the day, it’s all about delivering educational gains, … irregardless of your tax status or your mission,” he said.

For the Bresee Foundation, a Los Angeles-based group affiliated with the First Church of the Nazarene there, part of the reason it sought state approval to tutor under the No Child Left Behind Act was its belief in the federal law, which emphasizes holding schools accountable for their students’ academic progress.

“We appreciate the federal government taking a stand to help children,” said Kynna N. Wright, the foundation’s executive director.

The foundation is in its second year as a supplemental-services provider and tutors about 150 students. But the need to separate religion from tutoring hasn’t changed the group’s mission, she added.

“We believe in being the hands of God and having the compassion of God,” Ms. Wright said. “It’s part of what we do every day.”
 
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