ISBE Banner
State of Illinois - Governor Blagojevich 

News Clips

News Clips – June 24 to July 1, 2005

TOP OF PAGE

STATE  
The name of the game is service / Journal-Standard (
Freeport)
Pension law puts districts on hook / State Journal-Register
Illinois Schools Use Hidden Tax to Evade Property Tax Caps / The Heartland Institute
Governor takes steps to advance state aid payments to schools / Telegraph
State pushes purchasing network / Journal-Standard (
Freeport)
School board member sues District 201 / St. Louis Post-Dispatch

Dental checkups required to collect report cards starting July 1 / State Journal-Register
Standards for No Child law eased / Chicago Sun-Times
Unit 40 toughens collection practices / Effingham Daily News
$196,000 grant, its strings are rejected / Chicago Tribune
Settlement stops state takeover of school / Daily Herald
Fee rules are ‘clear as mud’ / Daily Herald

NATIONAL
Teacher exodus plagues schools / Detroit News
Airports may delay kids' learning / Chicago Tribune
Maine Prepares NCLB Lawsuit / School Reform News
NCLB Expansion in High Schools Concerns Congress, Governors / School Reform News
Blumenthal is right to threaten lawsuit / Connecticut Post
Broward schools shelve $275 million plan to arm students with laptops / Sun Sentinel
Pilfering added up over years / Raleigh News & Observer
Police: Teacher enlisted students to burn her car / Houston Chronicle
Texas House approves education bill / CNN.com
State education board votes to disband Wellston School District / St. Louis Post-Dispatch
These schools sell education for profit / Cincinnati Enquirer
City teachers being replaced / Baltimore Sun
Voucher Plan Expansion Considered /
Washington Post
U.S. invades kids' privacy / USA Today

TOP OF PAGE

STATE

The name of the game is service
Regional superintendent
John Lang known for helping serve districts
By Travis Morse, The Journal-Standard, 6/27/05

Stockton - To John Lang, the best way to approach the complex job of serving as regional superintendent of schools is to emphasize the "service" aspects of the position. More specifically, the regional superintendent should try to make it as easy as possible for school districts to comply with new state rules and regulations, Lang said.

"My biggest approach, I think, has been the service, to try and make the system work for everybody," Lang said. "When a new rule or regulation comes out, or a change takes place, I think our approach has been to try and make it easy for people (to comply). ... If we can do it cooperatively, we save everybody money and time."

Lang, 60, of rural
East Dubuque is retiring this week after 26 years in office as regional superintendent for the Regional Office of Education covering Carroll, Jo Daviess, and Stephenson counties. His last day is Monday, and the current assistant superintendent for the ROE, Marie Stiefel, will be Lang's replacement.

Although he said it was a tough decision to make, Lang felt the time was right to retire, considering his age and the fact that he wants to spend more time with his family. Two of Lang's sons, James and John, recently returned from active military service in
Iraq, which only strengthened Lang's urge to want to "stop and smell the roses" and enjoy his family while he still can. Lang also has a wife, daughter and three grandchildren.

"You see those pictures from
Iraq and you go, 'Wow,'" Lang said of his sons' military service. "It's been, in some way, a tough decision when you walk away from a profession that has been so much of your life. I have 38 actual years of service in Illinois education, and 29 of them have been spent in this office. That's a quarter of a century."

Lang grew up in Chicagoland, and early on spent his summers working on his family's farms in
Indiana. He received his bachelor's degree from Chicago State University, majoring in business education, with minors in English and social studies.

Lang started out in the education industry as a business education teacher in the
East Aurora school system, where he also taught some English and history courses. He came to northwest Illinois after securing a position as high school principal in East Dubuque, then became the assistant regional superintendent for Jo Daviess County.

He was an assistant in that regional office for three years, then ran for the regional superintendent position when the Carroll and Jo Daviess County regional offices combined. The regional superintendent position is very "diverse" and can be divided into two areas - supervisory and service, Lang said.

As a supervisor, Lang, among other things, has to oversee compliance reviews and annual building inspections for the school districts in his region to make sure each district is in compliance with state laws, administrative rules and building codes. Even so, Lang believes the "real value of the office" is the service side of his job, which he has tried to emphasize during his 26 years as regional superintendent.

An example of this service-oriented approach was when the state approved a requirement that districts have to run legal notices regarding prevailing wages, which are the hourly wages paid in the largest city in each county to the majority of workers, laborers and mechanics. These wages are established by the Department of Labor.

Rather than having each school district run its own notice, the regional office organized a joint notice that runs in the newspaper in each county of the region, saving the districts time and money, Lang said.

In addition, the regional office handles the paperwork and documentation for a cooperative grant for teacher quality and class size reduction in an attempt to make the grant process easier for individual districts, Lang said.

"It's a small thing, but it just makes everybody more efficient," Lang said. "If everybody has to do the same paperwork over and over again, there's no benefit."

The most challenging part of the job is the "constant change" the regional office experiences as the state approves new requirements, Lang said. For example, the state passed a law last year requiring that all schools eventually have defibrillators in all PE facilities.

In addition, there have been many recent changes in teacher certification requirements, and the paperwork for those requirements has to go through the regional office, Lang said.

"The pace of change has picked up tremendously," Lang said. "Our role is to assist (the districts) in implementing (new regulations)."

According to Stiefel, Lang has been an "incredible mentor" both to her and to the newer superintendents in the different districts. She said she hopes to keep the office running as well as Lang has been able to.

"I always figure I kind of learned from the best," Stiefel said.

Lang said he is proud of several initiatives he helped implement during his time as regional superintendent, including the Regional Alternative Program established for students with behavior problems in 1997, and the increase in staff development over the past 10 years with many more teachers now taking college credit courses, which are offered in this area.

Although he did not mention any specific plans, Lang said he will likely seek part-time employment after he retires.
 
TOP OF PAGE

Pension law puts districts on hook
End-of-career raises greater than 6% shift burden from Teachers' Retirement System
By Bernard Schoenburg, State Journal-Register Staff Writer,
6/26/05

As of the 1998-99 school year,
Chatham Glenwood High School's band director, Don Udey, had been a teacher for nearly three decades. With extra compensation for a variety of activities, including directing the jazz band and working on a musical, his pay that year came to $63,043.

When Udey retired at the end of the 2002-03 school year, he still had the same responsibilities. But his salary amounted to $100,270 - a 59 percent increase from four years earlier.

People agree Udey was a fine teacher. Some even compare him to Richard Dreyfuss' inspiring music teacher in the movie "Mr. Holland's Opus."

But he got those big end-of-career raises under an early retirement incentive written into the
Ball-Chatham School District's teachers contract. The deal allows up to four long-time district employees per year to receive 20 percent increases in gross salary for two years. And that, in turn, allows the employees to retire with significantly larger pensions.

Gov. Rod Blagojevich's administration challenged that system this spring because it is the state Teachers' Retirement System, not local school districts, that pay most public school teacher pensions statewide (the Chicago Public Schools have their own pension plan).

Teacher pensions are based on a teacher's top four years of pay during their final 10 years on the job. Maximum retirement pay, for people with at least about 35 years on the job, is 75 percent of their average pay for those four years.

"Now, I believe teachers are underpaid and under-appreciated," Blagojevich said in his budget address in February. "But rather than

back-loading salaries as they're about to leave the profession, wouldn't it be better to pay them more money throughout their careers?

"If a local school district or a university wants to award big end-of-career raises, they still can. But if they do, they should assume the majority of the costs. Taxpayers across
Illinois shouldn't have to pay billions of dollars more in increased pension costs just to cover those end-of-career raises."

The governor proposed capping teacher pay raises to 3 percent per year, which he said would save $17 billion over 40 years. By the time the pension reforms became law, such raises were limited to 6 percent annually. However, the new limits won't kick in until existing teacher contracts expire, which will be in August 2006 for Ball-Chatham.

Districts would still be able to give higher late-career raises, but any district that does so would have to pay the resulting extra pension costs.

Ball-Chatham School Superintendent Richard Voltz said the extra pension expense "certainly will have to be taken into account" the next time a teachers contract is negotiated.

"Obviously, we'd love to keep the (early retirement incentive), but we see that's not doable," said Bob Cox, president of the Ball-Chatham Education Association, the teachers union. "Hopefully, we can come up with a way to reward teachers over a longer period of time and still get the end result."

The early retirement incentive isn't the only late-career boost teachers can get in Ball-Chatham. As of the 2005-06 school year, teachers in their last year can get not only the average 5 percent annual increase in the contract, but a 17 percent bonus.

Linda Hittmeier, a former president of the Ball-Chatham Education Association, said many teachers are not eligible for Social Security or full Medicare benefits, increasing the importance of their pensions.

Hittmeier noted that Udey has a master's degree, "was there early and stayed late," oversaw jazz band and marching band, and, in that role, had to be at basketball and football games.

"He worked a lot harder than a lot of people making more money than he did," Hittmeier said. "No one in education works harder than classroom teachers, and they are not paid the most."

Hittmeier, 55, a high school math teacher, is retiring after the next school year and is one of the people who will benefit from the late-career pay raise option. Her salary was $49,030 in 2001-02, but will climb to $75,032 next year.

Others include Gary Goldasich, a high school driver's ed teacher, who made $49,752 in 2001-02 and will make $80,299 next year; Gary Funderburk, a fifth-grade teacher who over the same years will see his pay go from $49,752 to $80,299; and Michalene McAtee, a high school English teacher whose pay will be $76,492, up from $47,392 in 2001-02.

Udey declined to be interviewed for this article.

Charles McBarron, director of communications for the Illinois Education Association, the statewide union with which teachers in
Chatham and Springfield are affiliated, said his association supported the state pension changes despite "grave reservations about reducing the moderate benefits that our members receive."

The 6 percent cap was a compromise, McBarron said.

"You work 30 years, you're essentially underpaid as a professional," McBarron said, saying that the top teacher pay in some rural districts is $31,000 to $35,000, with the state average about $50,000. The end-of-career bonuses, he said, "didn't quite level out the playing field, but it did help a little bit."

In 2003-04, the highest-paid Ball-Chatham retiree was elementary school music teacher Maureen Best, who made $87,206 in her final year, up from $55,253 in 1999-2000.

"I think teachers deserve a little perk like that," said Best, 55, a former vice president of the district's teachers union.

She said she taught for 33 years and has a master's degree and 40 credit hours beyond the master's, much of it paid for at her own expense.

"I admit that I was in the right place at the right time," she said.

John Day, spokesman for the Teachers' Retirement System, said the system has 325,000 members and retirees.

The TRS had assets totaling $33.1 billion as of March 1, but the state's contribution to the system will go from $959 million last year to $534 million because the same pension legislation that rolled back the size of pay raises also enacted a "holiday" for state contributions to public employee pension systems. Without the holiday, Day said, the state was scheduled to contribute more than $1 billion in the fiscal year that begins July 1.

"It was essentially a 50 percent cut," he said of the pension bill.

"The major long-term impact is that ultimately the taxpayers will have to spend more because we will not have been able to invest these dollars," Day said. The TRS estimates that for every dollar not received by the system over the two years of the pension "holiday," $7 will have to be paid later.

The governor's office says long-term savings from the pension changes will make up for the money not paid into pension systems for the next two years.

The new legislation also increased pension contributions made by teachers from 9 percent of salary to 9.4 percent.

The IEA's McBarron said he thinks newspaper stories about highly paid superintendents who got "humongous pensions" after end-of-career bumps in pay helped lead to the new legislation.

"That is certainly not what we see happening to
Illinois teachers throughout the state," McBarron said.

The Chicago Sun-Times has reported that superintendents in the Palatine Township Elementary District and the
New Trier Township High School district each got end-of-career bonuses that brought their final pay to more than $345,000.
 
TOP OF PAGE

Illinois Schools Use Hidden Tax to Evade Property Tax Caps
By John W. Skorburg, visiting lecturer in economics at the University of Illinois, Chicago and associate editor of Budget & Tax News, Heartland Institute, 7/1/05
 
Hundreds of school districts across
Illinois have sharply increased a special tax that is meant to pay for legal claims and insurance expenses, some of them apparently doing so to divert the money to other purposes.

In some school districts, the amounts collected for the obscure "tort immunity fund" tax have skyrocketed several hundred percent over the past five years, with much of the money going to fund the salaries of teachers, administrators, and other personnel. Most local taxpayers do not know about the increases, because the tax does not show up on property tax bills.

The improprieties were revealed in a special report released in April by The Illinois Business RoundTable (IBRT), a voluntary association of chief executive officers of the state's leading businesses.

Districts 'Gaming the System'

"This is a litmus issue for taxpayers and the schools they support. Either districts are keeping the faith with their taxpayers--and the vast majority of school districts are--or they're gaming the system," said Jeff Mays, IBRT president.

According to the IBRT, 836 school districts reported data for 2002 and 2003. Tort tax extensions, the total amount billed to property owners, were as follows:

- 50 school districts increased their extensions more than 100 percent;

- 52 school districts increased their extensions between 50 and 100 percent;

- 90 school districts increased their extensions between 20 and 49 percent;

- 126 school districts increased their extensions between 10 and 19 percent;

- 208 school districts increased their extensions between 1 and 9 percent;

- 241 school districts had either negligible increases or decreases in their extensions.

More than 50 school districts that submitted data were left out of the analysis because certain information for 2002 or 2003 was unavailable.

Some Increases Astronomical

Some school districts had astronomical increases in their tort immunity tax extensions from 2002 to 2003.

The IBRT analysis showed
Waltham School District 185 in LaSalle County had a nearly 899 percent increase, from $10,015 in 2002 to $100,021 in 2003. Grayslake Community High School District 127 in Lake County increased its extension 705 percent, from $62,781 to $505,417. Niles Township Community High School District 219 in Cook County hiked its extension 595 percent, from $222,134 to $1,545,000.

Of the 836 districts, 158 received more than 10 percent of their total property tax levy from the tort immunity tax, according to the study.

Lawsuits Pending

According to the IBRT report, "it has become apparent that some units of local government are using the tax revenue to fund expenses more properly paid for from general operating funds. These uses of the revenue are inconsistent with the limited purpose of the tax authorization."

State law allows school districts to "levy an annual tax upon the value of the taxable property within its territory as equalized or assessed by the Department of Revenue at a rate that will produce a sum sufficient to pay the cost of settlements or judgments," as well as the costs of liability and property insurance premiums and risk management programs.

Unlike other local school taxes, whose maximum rates are limited, there is no limit on the tax rate for the tort immunity levy.

At least four
Illinois public school districts and a community college are being sued over their use of the tort tax. Plaintiffs allege much of the money has been illegally diverted from its stated purpose.

'Outright Abuse' Charged

"I am asking the court to rule that you can't use a tort fund levy to pay for salaries in the manner that the school districts are presently doing it," said Freeport attorney
Robert Slattery, who represents plaintiffs in the five cases. "It is illegal in Illinois to levy a tax for one purpose and then to divert those funds and spend them for another purpose. That is what the taxing districts are doing."

Slattery said that in the past three years,
Illinois schools have collected more than $1 billion in tort fund levies. "According to my estimates, from $600 million to $700 million dollars or more of these levies are illegal, and the funds are being illegally diverted to pay for salaries," Slattery said.

Slattery's crusade against misuse of the tort tax goes back to at least 2001, when he sued
Highland Community College in Freeport. Slattery has also filed lawsuits against the Coal City, Freeport, Pearl City, and Quincy school districts.

None of the cases has been decided, but Slattery expects a ruling in one of the cases by the end of June.

Money Shifted to General Fund

In an April 20 article, Chicago Tribune reporter
Diane Rado found 2003-2004 financial reports of Chicago-area school districts showed "nearly every district moved the tort money into its main education operating account for teacher and administrator salaries, pumping up reserves and, in some cases, avoiding deficits."

Coal City school superintendent Kent Bugg told Rado the district "surveyed teachers to determine how much time they spent on supervisory duties that keep children safe, such as monitoring halls during five-minute passing periods between classes." He also said the district worked "closely with its attorneys to ensure the expenditures were appropriate."

Districts Vulnerable to Judgments

The IBRT's Mays fears that with tort money paying for salaries, school districts won't have enough left over if they have to pay a legal judgment.

"What happens when you have a legal decision rendered against a district, if that district is already spending significant dollars from this tax for operating salaries?" asked Mays. "In that district, if 12 percent of the teachers' salaries are coming from this tort fund, will the district reduce salaries by 12 percent to pay the claim, or lay off 12 percent of the teachers?

"Clearly, neither choice is appropriate. That's why the law enabling districts to apply an 'extraordinary' tax for claims and settlements was created in the first place," Mays said.
 
TOP OF PAGE

Governor takes steps to advance state aid payments to schools
Alton Telegraph
 
SPRINGFIELD -- Gov. Rod R. Blagojevich has announced his intention to advance the final two state aid payments to schools for the current fiscal year, an action that some say is critical for school districts around the state as they try to keep their own budgets balanced.
 
In past years of revenue shortfalls, governors delayed the 23rd and 24th state aid payments until the following fiscal year. This is problematic for school districts, which budget the final two payments as part of their current fiscal year that ends June 30. School district officials say delaying the payments until July would create a serious cash-flow problem for them. After taking office in 2003, the governor committed to ending the practice of delaying these payments.
 
"We’ve made tremendous progress since 2003 to infuse our schools with critical new funding, and delaying these payments would only move that progress backwards," Blagojevich said."For the third consecutive year, I am directing that these payments be made on time so school districts can have piece of mind as they finalize their budgets."
 
In a letter Thursday to Comptroller Dan Hynes and Treasurer Judy Baar Topinka, the governor asked them to transfer approximately $300 million on Friday from the general revenue fund to the common school fund, so the July payments to school districts can be made early.Payment needs to be sent out by this time in order for school districts to receive it by the end of the month.Hynes has indicated that it is his belief sufficient funds exist to make the final two payments.
 
TOP OF PAGE
 
State pushes purchasing network
Area schools consider using the service to save their districts money
Robert Lewis, The Journal-Standard
 
FREEPORT - State school officials are trying to publicize an Illinois School Purchasing Network to save districts money.
 
"I think it will be a good way for districts to save money without much risk," said Becky Watts, an Illinois School Board of Education spokesperson.
 
The purchasing network would partner the state with U.S. Communities, a not-for-profit organization located in
California. The way it works is a member of U.S. Communities becomes the lead public agency to bid on a product. Because the product is open to the larger group of members, the vendor will often give the lowest possible price, Watts said. Members of the cooperative can then buy an individual product at what is essentially a bulk price.
 
Purchasing through U.S. Communities has been an option to school districts for some time.
Freeport School District 145 has used the service for several years, said Patrick McDermott, assistant superintendent for business.
 
"(Gov. Rod) Blagojevich is trying to take credit for what already existed," McDermott said.
 
The district does look at what U.S. Communities has for purchases like desks or paper, but often finds better deals on its own, he added. The service often has products the district doesn't need.
 
"You can usually check with them and see what they have before you buy new stuff," McDermott said.
 
Not all districts know about the service, which is part of the reason the State Board of Education is trying to publicize the network,
Watts said.
 
Wanda Herrmann, superintendent of
Dakota Community Unit School District 201, learned about the service from press releases and might see what savings U.S. Communities can offer.
 
"Our school district believes in those types of purchasing cooperatives," she said. "I think we always look at ways to reduce costs."
 
However, the district will also need to consider quality, and cheaper is not always better, she added.

TOP OF PAGE

School board member sues District 201
Josh Flint,
St. Louis Post-Dispatch
 
After
Belleville School District 201 passed a somewhat controversial dress code, several threats of litigation were made by irritated parents.
 
In a somewhat surprise turn of events, a lawsuit ended up coming from one of District 201's own school board members. Board member Judy Cates, a lawyer herself, is suing the school district for violating the Open Meetings Act.
 
According to Illinois State Law, meetings may be closed for several specific reasons. Discussing personnel, negotiating the purchase or sale of property, dealing with litigation, and reviewing closed meetings minutes are all viable reasons for holding a closed session.
 
According to the lawsuit, Cates is alleging that it is illegal to hold a closed session meeting before the open session is called to order. In e-mail correspondence, Cates raises this as a concern to Dr. Brent Clark, Superintendent of District 201.
 
"How can a Board not yet constituted go into closed session without a vote and without stating on the public record the reason for going in to closed session?" Cates wrote. "With all due respect, I think this violates
Illinois law."
 
Clark disagrees.
 
"It's a board prerogative as to when they schedule their meetings,"
Clark said.
 
Cates said that it does matter when a board schedules their meetings. She said that having a closed meeting without an open meeting that allows the public to attend is illegal.
 
"You can't go into closed session without the meeting being open," Cates said. "You have to have a meeting before you can close it."
 
Cates originally brought this issue up when she received her agenda for the April 25 meeting that stated the open meeting would begin at
7 p.m., 90 minutes after the closed meeting. The public is not allowed to attend closed meetings.
 
After Cates voiced her concern on April 21, she received a revised agenda. This agenda changed the open meeting time to
5:30 p.m. Once the meeting started, the board moved into a closed session.
 
Jim Williams, Cates' lawyer, said that holding a closed session meeting before the open session probably has a specific purpose.
 
"Obviously, the answer is to line up what you're going to do in the open session," Williams said.
 
Williams also said that in some cases the board has had certain discussions that aren't covered by the Open Meetings Act exceptions.
 
"The public has a right to know about that kind of stuff," Williams said.
 
Cates said that when she first became a board member, she stumbled upon this practice when she reviewed the closed session minutes.
 
"It's very clear from these minutes that certain topics were not appropriate to discuss in closed session," Cates said.
 
Williams said that both he and his client tried to keep this matter out of court. However, in the end taking the issue to court was the only viable option.
 
In filing the suit, Williams said all that he and his client are seeking is for the school district to adhere to the Open Meetings Act.
 
"The only thing that can be done is for the district to follow the correct procedure," Williams said.
 
Cates said that she has served on several publics governing bodies, and the District 201 school board is the first group that has had difficulty in following the Open Meetings Act.
 
"I do know that having been on public bodies – in which I've been involved – we've been able to follow it," Cates said.

TOP OF PAGE

Dental checkups required to collect report cards starting July 1
Mary Tallon, Associated Press, 6/28/05
 
SPRINGFIELD, Ill. (AP) -- Some grade school students will have to visit the dentist if they want to collect their end-of-year report cards, under a law that goes into effect Friday.
 
School officials already require students of certain ages to prove they have received vaccinations and general health screenings, but now students attending kindergarten, second and sixth grades would be required to undergo dental checkups.
 
Still, children wouldn't be barred from school for not complying, and waivers would be permitted in certain cases.
 
The dentist and lawmaker who sponsored the measure, Rep. David Miller, said requiring kids to get dental exams is important to establish hygiene habits that will save money in the long run and improve children's education.
 
"Dental disease and dental pain is one of the primary reasons children miss school," said Miller, D-Dolton.
 
Illinois Department of Public Health spokeswoman Jennifer Williams also cited research that has determined dental problems can lead to other illnesses.
 
"If you don't have proper oral health, it has been associated with heart disease and respiratory illness and low-birthweight babies," Williams said.
 
But parents and kids who don't follow the new rules won't face any consequences until mid-May. That's because the only penalty is for the school to withhold a child's final report card.
 
The legislation originally barred children from enrolling until they had gone to the dentist, but opposition from school administrators led to the compromise of withholding the final report card for children who don't comply.
 
Stephanie Travis, a
Springfield resident and mother of an 8-year-old girl, said she has mixed feelings about the new rule. She questions adding another chore to the long list of schools' responsibilities, but she admits some parents are lax about taking children to the dentist.
 
"I'm hoping they're doing it to make parents get up off their butts," Travis said.
 
Ben Schwarm, a lobbyist for school administrators, has similar concerns about overloading schools.
 
Schwarm said getting more children to visit dentists is a good thing, but lawmakers must be careful not to overburden teachers and principals with health responsibilities that should fall on parents.
 
He said some lawmakers also want schools to monitor whether parents have given their children vision and lead poisoning screenings, but those efforts have been defeated.
 
"Certainly, the local school district cannot be the police for all these things," Schwarm said.
 
The Public Health Department said it is still determining which children would be eligible for dental checkup waivers.
 
A student would likely be exempt from the dental exam requirement if monetary constraints or a lack of dental access prevented the child from visiting a dentist, Miller said. The legislation also allows a religious exemption.

TOP OF PAGE

Standards for No Child law eased
Kate N. Grossman,
Chicago Sun-Times, 6/29/05
 
Schools and districts in
Illinois will have an easier time meeting federal No Child Left Behind law testing standards this year, thanks to changes approved by Washington education officials Tuesday, the Chicago Sun-Times has learned.
 
That's because fewer students' test scores will count.
 
Illinois says it sought the changes to avoid unjustly labeling schools as failing to measure up to No Child standards. Illinois is one of 43 states to request changes this year, many of which relax standards.
 
Some critics accuse states of trying to game the system -- to make it look as if more schools are at level when little has changed.
Illinois insists that's not the case here.
 
"We certainly haven't backed down from accountability in any way," said Becky Watts, state Board of Education spokeswoman. "We just want to make sure we're fair."
 
The No Child law says each school and each subgroup in a school -- including racial and ethnic groups, as well as bilingual and special education students -- must meet federal testing standards. In 2004, 40 percent of students were to test at grade level. That rises to 47.5 percent for 2005 test results.
 
Subgroup sizes change

That jump makes it harder for schools to measure up, but under changes approved by the U.S. Education Department it will be easier for schools to fly under the radar. The size of a subgroup will jump from 40 students to 45.
 
Last year, 42 special education students in a school were counted as a subgroup. This year, they won't be counted. That means schools with special needs subgroups will drop from 535 to 394.
 
Another change will affect large urban districts, such as
Chicago's, where students change schools frequently. Last year, a student's score at an individual school didn't count if they transferred in after Oct. 1, even if they stayed through spring testing. Under the new rules, students must be enrolled almost a year before testing to have their scores count for their school.
 
Lieberman said
Illinois proposed these changes after hearing from educators statewide and from the General Assembly. She also looked at what other states did.
 
"There are many ways to game the system," Lieberman said, citing
California, where the subgroup size can be as large as 100. "We thought that was absurd. ... We could have gone more extreme on every single issue. We selected what we thought was reasonable."
 
Federal officials reject the notion standards are watered down.
 
"It's about focusing the target and using the money and resources on schools and students who need it most," said Chad Colby, an Education Department spokesman.

TOP OF PAGE

Unit 40 toughens collection practices
Kim Wiedman, Effingham Daily News
 
Overdue fees that have gone unpaid by Unit 40 students led the school board Monday to look at enforcement options, including hiring a collection agency.
 
With over $10,000 in unpaid fees at the junior high and high school level, Effingham Unit 40 Board of Education agreed to set up a procedure to collect outstanding and future debt.
 
According to Superintendent Dan Clasby, the unpaid debt includes $3,480 in textbook fees at
Effingham High School and over $700 in textbook fees at Effingham Junior High School for the 2004-05 school year.
 
Clasby said the unpaid fees stem from "chronic cases," where students have lost two or three textbooks and haven't paid for them.
 
According to Clasby, the parents of students who lose books are responsible for paying for those books. Letters are sent out to parents informing them of the overdue fees, but oftentimes those letters don't result in payment, said Clasby, who added sometimes payments are made with bad checks.
 
"We lose that money," said Clasby, adding it is unfortunate the school would have to look to a collection agency to receive payment for the books.
 
According to Clasby, the overdue fees are not the result of families not being able to pay the fee.
 
"I really think we need to get proactive. I think this is the only way to go that will work," he said. "It is a problem, and I think it is a problem we need to address. We will do it properly."
 
In other fee-related matters, board members also agreed to adopt a policy for charging meals to be implemented for students in preschool to eighth grade.
 
The new policy states students only will be allowed to charge a total of four meals, and at that point, the student must bring a sack lunch and will not be able to participate in the cafeteria programs until the account is paid in full

TOP OF PAGE

$196,000 grant, its strings are rejected
Graydon Megan,
Chicago Tribune, 6/29/05
 
DISTRICT 214 -- Officials in Township High School District 214 rejected a $196,000 poverty grant last week that is linked to the federal No Child Left Behind law.
 
Administrators complained that the money for tutoring and other support services for low-income students would benefit only a small percentage of students targeted by the poverty grant--about 20 percent of the 952 low-income students.
 
If the Arlington Heights-based district took the grant, officials would face sanctions under No Child Left Behind law if student scores on standardized state tests don't improve this year. District officials say they have their own plan to raise performance for all students.

TOP OF PAGE

Settlement stops state takeover of school
Lee Filas, Daily Herald, 6/30/05
 
A last-minute settlement between Gavin school officials and the CURB Education Foundation may stave off the threat of a state takeover of the district’s finances.
 
Gavin attorney Rob Swain said late-night talks Tuesday between board officials and CURB members produced a tentative agreement to settle the lawsuit.
 
The settlement means $7 million in state financial aid that had been frozen can be released to the district.
 
The district now has the money to repair
Gavin Central School, and refund itself for the cost of closing Central and leasing Lakes Community High School. The district can also pay for a lease agreement with Lake Zurich Middle School for next year.
 
More importantly, the settlement means the district will not be sending a letter to the Illinois Board of Education requesting a voluntary financial oversight panel.
 
“We are extremely relieved the lawsuit with CURB has been resolved,” school board President Barb Mende said. “I’m happy that the district finances are not in dire straits anymore and that we can start moving forward to take care of the things we were elected to do.”
 
The lawsuit, filed by CURB in January, said state lawmakers acted unconstitutionally in approving an increase in property taxes without a referendum.
 
As part of the settlement, the district must do what it can to ensure Gavin Central on Route 59 in Ingleside will not be razed, Swain said.
The board is allowed to demolish certain portions of the facility as needed, Swain said.
 
“Essentially, the board must commit their best efforts to repair Central rather than tear it down,” Swain said. “It doesn’t ban demolition, but the board must devote their best efforts to implement a repair that is safe and sound.”
 
District officials agreed to take on a financial oversight panel if a settlement wasn’t reached by
4:30 p.m. today.
 
Had a financial oversight panel been installed, the district would have lost control of its spending decisions. If spending did not curtail under the oversight panel, the state could have seized control of the district, imposed property tax increases and demolished Central.
 
The state still holds the right to take over the district, but that appears unlikely because the district will turn in a balanced budget today.
 
Mende said art, music and gym classes — originally scheduled to be cut due to the district’s bleak financial outlook — can return next year with the same teachers who were previously laid off.
 
“We will be talking about that in the next week,” Mende said. “Truly, this settlement can bring back everything that we have lost over the past six months.”
 
CURB president Ron SaLee said he was happy to have the lawsuit behind him, even if he wasn’t entirely happy with the settlement.
 
“There were some language issues that I would have liked to see changed,” he said. “But, (the settlement) had to happen. We just wanted to make sure they were going to do the right thing, and we are confident now that they will.”
 
TOP OF PAGE
 
Fee rules are ‘clear as mud’
Emily Krone, Daily Herald, 6/30/05
 
A debate over the legality of band fees collected by Cary Elementary District 26 is shining light on the difficulty of defining what constitutes a “free” education in
Illinois.
 
Even after receiving opinions from two attorneys, District 26 board members are seeking more input on whether the $300 band fees the previous board imposed were legal.
 
As an increasing number of districts charge for everything from science textbooks to jazz band, school boards are splitting hairs to determine whether they are charging activity fees or tuition, the latter prohibited by board of education administrative rules.
 
“Remarkably, there is relatively little guidance on this issue,” district attorney Kevin Gordon wrote.
 
In District 26, questions arose because band fees were applied to the salary and benefits of the band instructors.
 
Band parents paid about $112,000, more than half of the program’s $195,000 total, which equaled the salary and benefits of three full-time band teachers.
Last month, an attorney from the Illinois State Board of Education advised the board that in public schools, instruction in a curricular program must be free, though charges for equipment and materials are permissible.
 
However, Illinois School Code clearly states districts may charge fees for extracurricular activities, even to offset the cost of salary and benefits.
 
Gordon’s opinion left District 26 in the bizarre position of deciding, after the fact, whether last year’s band program was part of the curriculum.
 
“I don’t know why this is as difficult as it is,” board President Craig Loew said. “It does seem pretty foolish that you can’t determine if this is extracurricular or not.”
 
The opinion that Gordon submitted to the board stated that extracurricular activities are voluntary, not-for-credit programs that meet during non-school hours.
 
Meanwhile, council for the Illinois State Board of Education said any class or elective offered during the school day is part of the curriculum.
 
“It’s about as clear as mud,” said Andrea Gorla, District 26 chief financial officer.
 
The district’s Web site lists band under “clubs and other activities.” Band students receive grades, but not credit. They practice before school and, twice a week, during school, according to Loew.
 
“It’s all in the eye of the beholder,” said Jerry Glaub, a spokesman for the Illinois Association of School Boards. “We have classes in music, classes in art. … They’re curricular. Extracurricular is something you do extra.”
 
At a District 26 community engagement meeting Monday, new Superintendent Mike Smith said the question should be not what is legal, but what is ethical.
 
Loew agreed. “The financial is not the issue. … It’s are we doing the right thing,” he said.
 
Debate over band plays on at
7 p.m. July 11 at the Board of Education meeting at District 26 headquarters.

TOP OF PAGE



===========================================================================

NATIONAL

Teacher exodus plagues schools
Half of new instructors leave
Michigan districts, which costs them money as well as young talent.
Joe Menard / The
Detroit News
 
Nearly half of
Michigan teachers are leaving the profession only a few years after they begin, mirroring a national dilemma and causing headaches for districts struggling to keep young educators.
 
"It wasn't what I imagined it to be. You have to deal with parents, other teachers and administrators," says Erika Blakemore, 31, of
Ypsilanti, who taught at Detroit Public Schools from 2001 to 2004. "It wasn't easy."
 
Low starting salaries, family obligations and lack of support are the most common reasons that an estimated 50 percent of teachers leave the profession in the first five years, says Richard Ingersoll, an associate professor of education and sociology at the
University of Pennsylvania. He is a national expert on teacher retention issues and has published several academic papers on the subject using data from a random sample of more than 50,000 teachers.
 
The problem is more profound in urban and rural districts where cash is scarce, but no district is immune to retention issues, he says.
 
"There's heavy losses in the first few years," he says. "It's an easy in, easy out profession. We have too much turnover. The solution can't just be recruiting new people. It has to be retention."
 
Nationally, turnover and attrition cost school districts $2.6 billion annually, according to the Seattle-based
Alliance for Education. The U.S. Department of Labor estimates it costs about 30 percent of a lost teacher's salary to recruit, hire and train a replacement.
 
It also costs school districts in the form of younger, experienced teachers on the brink of becoming veterans whom parents have come to trust, according to Rochester Community Schools Trustee Mike Reno.
 
"By losing teachers who already have a few years of experience, we're losing that sense of confidence that these seasoned teachers bring," he says. "Having a stable teaching work force helps assure parents. "
 
Erik Howard left his teaching job at
Holy Redeemer High School in 2002 after two years because he didn't feel he was making a big enough impact in his students' lives.
 
"I wanted to be around youth who wanted to be there instead of those who had to be there," says Howard, 26, who now works as a youth director for the All Saints Neighborhood Center in
Detroit. "I think education needs some major revamping. It's an antique institution."
 
Support helps keep teachers
 
Frustration about school bureaucracies and a lack of support for new teachers are major factors for teachers fleeing the profession, Ingersoll says.
 
"The data is pretty clear: Where you have more support, you keep more teachers," he says.
 
Teachers who have left the classroom say they found very little support from administrators at their schools, making them feel as if they were on their own in a foreign world filled with impressionable children.
 
"There was no administrative support," says Nicholas Edmunds, 26, of
Detroit, who worked in Detroit schools for two years before getting laid off last year. He is now attending classes at Eastern Michigan University to get a degree in speech therapy. "I didn't receive any help. It was a pretty bad experience."
 
To try to address the problem -- which Ingersoll says has been constant since experts began tracking the problem about 15 years ago -- the state and some school districts are taking a more proactive approach to retaining teachers.
 
State requires mentors
 
In 1993, the Michigan Legislature required school districts to provide a mentor for new teachers for their first three years and provide 15 days of professional development in that time. And in January 2004, the State Board of Education adopted mentoring standards designed to further support new teachers.
 
But the success of the mentoring programs has been different across school district lines. It is especially lacking in rural and urban communities where the money to run such programs is scarce, Ingersoll says.
 
Blakemore says her mentor teachers were great and helped her stick out her three years in
Detroit, but that the support stopped there.
 
"I was being treated unfairly," she says. "In the three years, I taught at three different schools. I was uprooted in the middle of the semester."
 
A lack of stability also pushed Melissa Reisler of
Waterford out of teaching. The 31-year-old taught elementary students in Southfield public schools for four years before quitting to become a nanny.
 
"Every year I moved to a different grade. I had four different principals in the four years I was there," she says.
 
In addition to constantly changing classrooms and administrators, Reisler had to deal with parents who either were not involved at all or were too involved, she says.
 
"As a teacher, you have 35 bosses. Parents always thought they knew more than I did," she says. "I think teaching is a thankless profession."
 
That attitude stems from a "sink or swim" culture in schools, says Margaret Trimer-Hartley, a spokeswoman for the Michigan Education Association, the state's largest teachers union.
 
"It is taxing on our young teachers," she says. "There should be a little better preparation for educators for what they're walking into."
 
Some districts have success
 
Some suburban districts have been successful at helping their young teachers and getting them to stay. Two years ago, Plymouth-Canton Schools began putting recent graduates through a new teacher orientation program that pairs them with a teacher from their field who acts as a mentor for their first few years. The district allows them to meet regularly to discuss lesson plans and strategies for coping with parents and troublesome students.
 
"We provide release time for them to get together and talk," says Ray Bihun, executive director of human resources for the district. He says only two teachers have voluntarily left the district since the program started.
 
Livonia schools have a similar program that helps new teachers find their footing, says Julie Springer, a first-year art teacher in the district. "It's been a wonderful support system," she says.
 
Springer and her mentor, who has been a teacher in the district for 35 years, communicate daily via e-mail, talk on the phone once a week and meet in person a few times a month.
 
"It gives you a lot of encouragement," Springer says.
 
Private competition hurts
 
But even with strong support systems, some districts find it hard to compete financially with the private sector, which routinely recruits math and science teachers out of education. The lure to the corporate world is partly responsible for the math and science teacher shortage in the state, Trimer-Hartley says.
 
Jeff Watson worked for three years as a high school math teacher in the Plymouth-Canton district before the corporate world lured him away with a higher salary. He went from making about $38,000 in his third year of teaching to about $48,000 in his first year with the engineering firm General Dynamics.
 
"They need to get the pay fixed," says Watson, who left teaching in 1999 and since has seen his salary jump about $7,000 per year.
 
Though he liked working for the district, he was often frustrated by low pay and a lack of basic supplies.
 
"There needs to be more resources available. Some of the equipment was way out of date," he says. "I had to buy a lot of my own supplies."
 
Each
Michigan teacher spends about $400 of his or her own money annually on supplies, Trimer-Hartley says.
 
No Child law causes problems
 
The federal No Child Left Behind Act is making it harder for teachers to succeed, Trimer-Hartley says. The law's test-based assessment system is frustrating teachers who feel they must teach to the tests, and is taking away their creativity, she says, leading them out of the profession.
 
The law is part of the reason Reisler left the profession.
 
"No Child Left Behind is just a nightmare," she says.
 
Motherhood also plays a role in the dilemma. An estimated 25 percent of teachers who leave the field eventually come back, usually after going home to raise families.
 
"I knew all my life what I wanted to do for a living was be a mom," says Beth Mayne, 33, of Royal Oak, who quit her job as a teacher in the Bloomfield Hills district in 2001 after four years when she had her first daughter. Since then, Mayne has had two other children and doesn't plan on going back until they're in school.
 
In an effort to retain teachers who also want to be parents, districts like
East Detroit offer job-sharing programs for young parents. Teachers work half the hours of a regular work week, allowing them to spend more time with their children, says Lois Johnson, an assistant superintendent for East Detroit Public Schools.
 
TOP OF PAGE

Airports may delay kids' learning
Intermittent noise is too distracting
Bill Hendrick, Cox News Service
 
ATLANTA -- If you live near a major airport, your children might have a harder time learning to read and memorizing their spelling lessons than if you resided in a quieter area, a new study has found.
 
In the largest study of its kind, Stephen Stansfeld of the
University of London's Queen Mary's School of Medicine and Dentistry and colleagues found that near-constant noise not only increased stress in youngsters but also made learning more difficult and impaired their memory.
 
"This effect is significant," Stansfeld said. "In practical terms, aircraft noise might have only a small effect on the development of reading, but the effect of long-term exposure remains unknown."
 
The study suggests that schools shouldn't be built close to airports and urges officials who decide such things to give "a wider consideration of the effect of environmental stressors on children's cognitive development."
 
The scientists studied more than 2,800 children, ages 9 and 10, from 89 primary schools located near three major airports, one in the Netherlands, the others in Spain and England.
 
They found that the reading age in children exposed to high levels of aircraft noise was delayed as long as two months at the
London school and as long as one month in the Netherlands, for a 5-decibel change in noise exposure.
 
In contrast, road traffic did not have an effect on reading but was unexpectedly found to improve recall memory, Stansfeld said.
 
So why did they find in all three countries that aircraft noise affected kids more than the constant din of speeding cars and trucks?
 
"One explanation is that the transient nature of aircraft flyovers, which have high short-term levels, may disrupt the child's concentration and distract them from learning tasks, while the more constant nature of road traffic noise may allow children to habituate and not be distracted," said Dr. Charlotte Clark of the Center for Psychiatry at the University of London, one of Stansfeld's colleagues.
 
And it's possible a certain amount of road traffic noise could improve memory by causing "moderate levels of arousal, which can improve task performance for simple tasks," she said.
 
The scientists, she said, feel it's important to keep schools in neighborhoods.
 
Also, "we feel it would be beneficial to insulate schools, including roofs and walls. It may also be beneficial to create `quiet areas' within schools."
 
Peter Rabinowitz of the Yale University School of Medicine said this is not the first time schools near airports have come under study.
 
In one, 326 German schoolchildren were followed after the old
Munich airport was replaced by a new international facility.
 
"Children attending schools near the airport improved their reading scores and cognitive memory performance as the airport shut down--while children going to school near the new airport experienced a decrease in testing scores," he said in an accompanying article to the study, just published in the peer-reviewed scientific journal The Lancet.

TOP OF PAGE

Maine Prepares NCLB Lawsuit
Frank Heller, School Reform News
 
The state of
Maine is moving to become the next state to sue the federal government over the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB). As many as 17 states already have brought suit.
 
In late May, both houses of the state legislature passed a bill directing the state to investigate the costs of implementing NCLB and compare them to the federal funding allocated for compliance.
 
At press time,
Maine's Department of Education (MDOE) was finishing a study on what NCLB's testing requirements would cost the state, and it was scheduled to send the report to the attorney general for review in June. If the attorney general's office determines NCLB is an insufficiently funded mandate, a lawsuit against the federal government could soon follow.
 
Older Program Deemed Adequate
 
The issues behind the lawsuit have been simmering for 15 years. In the early 1990s, State Sen. Michael Brennan (D-Portland), then a state representative, sponsored a bill creating the state's Learning Results program--the result of a decade-long effort to develop a broad range of educational standards for each grade level, adapting standards from associations such as the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics.
 
The program's guidelines were published in 1997. Under the plan, students have been taking a battery of tests administered annually by local school districts, as well as the state-run Maine Educational Assessment (MEA) test.
 
The complex, expensive testing process has yet to yield the desired results. In 2004 only 12 percent of low-income high school juniors in the state were proficient in math, and 13 percent were proficient in science--yet most of them received diplomas the next year.
 
Despite this lack of success for the state's own Learning Results program, in June 2003 Brennan sponsored a bill directing the MDOE to undertake "a thorough investigation of the costs and benefits of participation in NCLB." The bill, titled "Resolve, Regarding the No Child Left Behind Act of 2001" (LD 676), passed
May 24, 2005 by a vote of 85-58 in the state House. The Senate had passed it on May 20.
 
Brennan said he wants
Maine to return the NCLB money and stay with Learning Results. "No Child Left Behind is the single most intrusive piece of federal education legislation in the history of our nation. In a time of budget cuts and [military] base closures, we just can't afford an unfunded mandate," Brennan said. "NCLB could cost the state an additional $100 million, and it hinders the implementation of the state's Learning Results curriculum."
 
State Accepted NCLB Funds
 
The MDOE favors Learning Results over NCLB as well. In his written testimony on LD 676, Deputy Commissioner Patrick Phillips said, "determining the costs of NCLB has been a controversial issue. ... The most contentious area has been defining what the federal law actually requires in terms of student achievement ... and whether federal funds are 'adequate' to allow student achievement."
 
One problem is that the state accepted the NCLB money and all the conditions attached. According to the U.S. Department of Education (USDOE),
Maine has seen a "47 percent funding increase over the last five years while the student census has declined 30 percent." Phillips, however, said the MDOE never requested additional funding from USDOE, and that the state had even returned some of the money.
 
Nonetheless, Phillips estimated
Maine needs approximately $11 million more to comply with NCLB's accountability requirements, as well as any others that go beyond those listed in the Elementary and Secondary Education Act.
 
Complexities in the accounting process--including separating which administrators are to be paid for routine tasks from federal, state, or local budget accounts--make it difficult to determine whether the underfunding problem exists because MDOE failed to estimate the full cost of administering NCLB or because it failed to reallocate monies to administrative and other tasks in a timely manner.

TOP OF PAGE

NCLB Expansion in High Schools Concerns Congress, Governors
By Robert Holland, senior policy analyst at the Lexington Institute, School Reform News,
7/1/05

The prospect of President George W. Bush's achieving a stated second-term goal of expanding the influence of the federal No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB) in high school reform looked bleak after a series of congressional actions this spring.

First, the U.S. House of Representatives registered bipartisan opposition to the president's proposal for funding the NCLB expansion when it voted 416-9 to reauthorize the Carl D. Perkins Vocational and Technical Education Act on May 4. In his FY2006 budget, Bush proposed diverting Perkins' $1.3 billion to a new $1.5 billion High School Initiative that would include annual testing of all students and remedial intervention.

Earlier, the Senate had approved Perkins' reauthorization 99-0. Republican and Democratic lawmakers argued Perkins supports effective vocational programs in their states. The White House Office of Management and Budget had said, "despite decades of significant federal spending, the current [Perkins] program is not adequately preparing our students to participate in today's competitive workforce."

The disagreement over NCLB's role in high schools goes deeper than which pots of money are available to pay for it. That became clear at a House Education and the Workforce Committee hearing May 17 that brought out bipartisan support for the idea that much-needed reform of high school curricula should be driven by states and local communities, not by expanding NCLB.

Flexibility Sought

Iowa Gov. Tom Vilsack (D) declared at the hearing, "the case for change in America's high schools is well documented: The graduation rate is too low, too many students are struggling learners, and much of the curriculum needs to be revamped to better prepare our youth not just to become employed, but also to be informed, compassionate, and productive citizens." Vilsack lauded ventures such as Dual Credit that enable students to earn college credits while still in high school.

However, Vilsack warned against "one-size-fits-all" solutions and said, "just as each student has very individual gifts and needs, each school and each district is unique in its strengths and challenges, and must be allowed to develop its own plan for action, reform, and success."

Federal Expansion Deemed Unwise

While praising Bush for putting high school reform on the national agenda, House Education Committee Chairman John Boehner (R-OH), who championed NCLB in 2001, expressed serious doubts about the wisdom of expanding its reach into high schools. Boehner said he always has believed the federal government's role in education should be "limited" but that NCLB "was necessary and justified because the federal government was already spending billions of dollars a year on K-12 education before NCLB was enacted, and the federal government wasn't demanding results for children in return."

Boehner added that because he's a supporter of NCLB, "I have doubts about the idea of expanding it at this time. I'm not sure we're ready to require states to do more under No Child Left Behind at a time when some are still seeking, unfortunately, to do less. I think we need to take a look at what states and communities are already doing proactively to transform high schools, and ask whether additional federal requirements are even justified."

Students with Disabilities

Meanwhile, under Education Secretary Margaret Spellings' leadership, the Bush administration is moving to shore up support for NCLB as it currently operates, with a focus on required annual testing of the reading and math skills of children in grades 3-8.


In an effort to provide more flexibility for states without compromising the basic goals of NCLB, Spellings announced that states that failed to achieve Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP) solely because of the test scores of students in the "disabilities" subgroup could adjust their goals to use alternative assessments for those students, who constitute about 2 percent of the total student population.

In a related move, Edward J. Kame'enui, an international authority on learning problems and special education, was named commissioner of the
National Center for Special Education Research, an entity created by the 2004 congressional reauthorization of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA).

Head Start Reauthorized

The House Education Committee ended a partisan impasse by approving a bill to reauthorize Head Start, the preschool program originally begun as part of President
Lyndon B. Johnson's anti-poverty crusade. The bill, sponsored by Education Reform Subcommittee Chairman Mike Castle (R-DE), seeks to beef up Head Start's academic components, as Bush had proposed.

California Rep. George Miller, the Education Committee's senior Democrat, thanked Republicans for responding to Democrats' concerns by dropping proposals to include Head Start in block grants to the states--a step Miller said "would have ended Head Start as we know it."
 
TOP OF PAGE

Blumenthal is right to threaten lawsuit
Connecticut Post Opinion, 6/27/05
 
It's become clear that state Attorney General Richard Blumenthal's was serious last month when he threatened litigation over the federal government's No Child Left Behind law.

Blumenthal has been in constant communication with the U.S. Department of Education over the controversial law. Blumenthal was essentially seeking for the government to bend the requirements for
Connecticut's compliance with No Child Left Behind, taking issue with the financial burden the law puts on the state.

The government's DOE has refused to budge, and Blumenthal is now looking for other states to join him in a lawsuit against the federal government.

The attorney general has called the No Child Left Behind law "inflexible," "unyielding," a "slap in the face," and, because the federal NCLB mandate is unfunded, illegal.

The Connecticut Post agrees with him. While the federal NCLB mandate is a great concept — no one can argue against strengthening the quality of education in the nation's schools — the fact is the law is far too broad to be effective in many circumstances, including
Connecticut's.

Anyone with even an inkling of familiarity with local politics knows that education is one of the major components of most local budgets. For many communities —
Bridgeport included — there is simply no financial wiggle room. What NCLB asks for is to devote millions and millions of more dollars to the state's education system — mostly on mandates that are completely superfluous.

One estimate pins the cost for
Bridgeport to fund the NCLB mandate at $25 million more than it has or will receive from the state or federal government. According to studies, many other communities in Connecticut would have to pay between $3.8 million and $10.1 million through 2008. And the state has less than three months until September rolls around and NCLB regulations must be met.

And those regulations, while admirable, would do nothing to actually improve a child's education in
Connecticut. A major requirement of NCLB is that there be a yearly test which a student is forced to take — but Connecticut already has a noted state testing policy, one of the finest in the nation. Simply giving our school children more tests is not going to improve their education. The NCLB law simply has little or no relevance to Connecticut.

And that's exactly why the federal government should give the state some leniency in enforcing this economically bloated mandate. Blumenthal has asked them repeatedly to provide funding for NCLB, and the federal DOE hasn't budged. That makes NCLB an unfunded mandate, which violates federal law. The state's attorney general is strongly encouraged to go forward with his lawsuit until the government realizes its error.
  
TOP OF PAGE

Broward schools shelve $275 million plan to arm students with laptops
By Chris Kahn, Sun Sentinel Education Writer,
6/29/05
 
It seemed the perfect way to prepare students for a high-tech future: Hand each kid a laptop computer, get them typing, downloading and navigating the Web, let them take the devices home for projects.

But one year after the
Broward County School District poured $6.6 million into laptops for students at four schools, only one campus has shown overall improvement on the Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test.

The mediocre results, combined with the high cost of the computers, means other students around the county won't get their own laptops anytime soon.

District Chief Information Officer Vijay Sonty said his office decided to shelve a $275 million proposal to expand the project and give every student a computer.

"It's expensive, and we haven't seen any demonstrable results on the FCAT yet," Sonty said.

Instead, Sonty said his office will ask the School Board in July to lease 40,000 computers at a cost of $68 million over the next four years. The laptops will go to every school and replace older computers.

"They won't be taking them home," he said.

This year, the district let students borrow 5,800 Apple iBooks at Broward Estates Elementary in
Fort Lauderdale, Attucks Middle in Hollywood, Monarch High in Coconut Creek and Miramar High.

Of the four, only Broward Estates did better on Florida's A-Plus grading system, jumping from a C to an A this year. Broward Estates students posted bigger gains on the FCAT than the county average.

The other three remained C schools in 2005 and had mixed results on the state test.

At
Miramar, students were told to leave their computers on campus a few months into the school year after dozens were broken and 11 more were stolen. At year's end, its 10th-graders struggled. They failed to gain as much as the county average on state math and reading scores.

Monarch 10th-graders trailed the county average in gains on the math test, and Attucks seventh-graders trailed the county average in gains on the reading test.

Jeanine Gendron, the district official handling the laptop program at the four schools, expects it to continue this fall. Though the test scores may not show it yet, she said students have benefited.

Laptops make interesting gadgets, she said, especially for students who've never owned a computer. Adding them to the classroom instantly gets kids more enthusiastic about their schoolwork. Attendance is up at some schools, Gendron said, and teachers say they have fewer discipline problems.

Broward Estates Principal Deedara Hicks credits the iBooks for getting students excited about reading long passages and tackling big projects. Kids enjoy clicking on hyperlinks and seeing where they go, she said.

"They can take ownership of their own learning," Hicks said.

But at Monarch High in Coconut Creek, parent and Student Advisory Committee Chairwoman Linda Zara said she worried teachers were using the computers to put their classes on autopilot.

"It was easier for lazy teachers to say `Go online and do this research' during class," Zara said. "It lessened the teaching time."

Zara said parents also worried about being responsible for the $1,200 iBooks.

"If you lose it or it gets broken, then you're personally responsible for it," Zara said.

The district offers a $75 insurance policy for the laptops, but Zara said her son will likely use his own laptop next year. That way he'll get to keep it during final exams in May. She said students had to give up their computers a few weeks before the end of the school year.

Around the country, school districts have added laptops to the list of required classroom supplies to help meet the federal No Child Left Behind Act's goal to get students "technologically literate" by the end of the eighth grade.

Maine had one of the most ambitious programs, giving every seventh-grader a laptop in 2002.

Students in
Maine don't take standardized tests each year, but schools say they're making significant progress, said Tony Sprague, a Maine official who supervises the $37 million program.

"One math teacher said he taught his students using the same curriculum and taught his class in the same way as the year before without laptops," Sprague said. "He gave them the same quiz in mid-October: The year before, the average class score was a 74 [percent]. The next year, with laptops, the average score was 92 [percent]."

Broward will take a closer look at how the laptops affect test scores next year, when teachers and students are more comfortable with the computers. If test scores are up and the technology gets less expensive, Sonty said he'll once again look at making laptops available to every student.

"Maybe in two or three years, we'll be ready."
 
TOP OF PAGE

Pilfering added up over years
Garner cafeteria manager voided hundreds of small breakfast and lunch sales, a school probe finds
By T. KEUNG HUI, Staff Writer,
Raleigh News & Observer, 6/29/05

Frances Crowder Parker was by all outward appearances a model
Wake County school employee, with awards to her name.

But that illusion was shattered this month when the former
Garner High School cafeteria manager confessed that she had stolen $217,786 from the school system. Parker, who has been arrested on embezzling charges, has agreed to repay the money.

A review of school district records shows how so much money was stolen over 4 1/2 years without being detected.

"There were safeguards in place to keep track of financial dealings," said Don Haydon, Wake's associate superintendent for auxiliary services, which oversees school cafeterias. "This individual was apparently able to exploit places where there weren't adequate checks."

Parker, 36, of
399 Galaxy Drive in Johnston County, apparently took small amounts of money out of cafeteria funds on a daily basis from August 2000 to February 2005.

David Venable, Parker's attorney, declined to comment Tuesday. He previously has said that Parker is cooperating with investigators.

The fraud may have included something as simple as pocketing money from the vending machines, according to Garner Police Chief Thomas Moss. Other elements of the embezzlement scheme were far more sophisticated.

Transaction lists show that Parker logged into the computerized cash register system on a daily basis after breakfast and lunch were served.

It's not uncommon for cafeteria workers to void transactions if they realize they've made a mistake taking a student's order. But records show that Parker voided dozens of transactions at a time, some for as little as 40 cents.

On Dec. 9, Parker apparently voided 118 transactions totaling $477.25.

Investigators think that once Parker voided a transaction, she then pocketed the money from that transaction.

Records also show that Parker backdated a large number of cash payments. While employees used to backdate a transaction or two to balance the books, Parker did a dozen or more a day worth several hundred dollars.

Parker apparently backdated the money by as much as a year, which didn't trigger any warning signs in the computer system.

"Anytime you have one person in charge of all the financial resources and limited checks and balances, things like this can happen," Moss said.

Haydon said the school system has implemented several changes to limit the possibility of such abuse again. Child nutrition staffers from the central office now run daily reports on each cafeteria to monitor transactions. School cafeteria workers are no longer allowed to backdate transactions.

Haydon said the child nutrition department also has reminded workers that two people must count money. And, he said, new software will help officials do a better job of keeping track of inventory.

Audit's discovery

The possibility of theft at Garner High wasn't on anyone's minds before this year.

In fact, Parker was one of the nominees in March 2004 for the school district's high school child nutrition manager of the year.

"This is certainly one of the most coveted awards and only the best of the best are nominated," wrote Elaine Hunt, Wake's senior director for child nutrition services at the time.

School officials said a recent fraud case involving school transportation employees led the school district to hire additional internal auditors and to conduct an audit of the child nutrition department in November and December. That uncovered the problems at Garner High.

School officials say they confronted Parker on Feb. 28. She resigned that day, and police were notified.

The financial picture at Garner High's cafeteria has improved significantly since Parker's departure. At the time of Parker's departure, the cafeteria was running at a loss of $7,241 for this fiscal year. Through April 30, the deficit had been reduced to $1,836.

For the previous three years, Garner High's cafeteria ran at an annual deficit of between $12,000 and $20,000. School cafeterias are supposed to be self-supporting. Haydon said Parker had explained away the deficits on factors such as the school losing enrollment.

Garner High Principal Cathy Johnson said the case shouldn't tarnish the school's image. Parker worked for the school district -- not the high school -- so Johnson said she didn't have any authority over the cafeteria.

After 16 1/2 years with the school system, Parker was earning $24,911 a year. She has agreed to repay $220,001, which includes attorney fees.

In hindsight

School officials say they should be given credit for doing the detective work to uncover the fraud and for getting Parker to agree to repay the money. But questions linger about the case.

"It's certainly important they caught it," said Moss, the Garner Police chief. "But because it went on for so long, my question is why weren't there checks and balances?"

Haydon said it's easy in hindsight to say additional measures should have been in place.

Parker faces between 44 months and 120 months in prison if convicted of the felony embezzlement charge. Her next court date is July 7, but Wake Assistant District Attorney Jeff Cruden said that will likely be delayed because he'll ask the grand jury to indict her.
 
TOP OF PAGE

Police: Teacher enlisted students to burn her car
She tells officers she offered to pass the 2 Aldine teens if they helped her collect insurance
By Peggy O’Hare and Mike Glenn,
Houston Chronicle, 6/29/05

Two
Aldine Senior High School students were failing their chemistry course when their teacher approached them with an unexpected opportunity.
 
The teens could change their academic fate with one project — and it wouldn't be in the chemistry lab. For a little help in torching and dumping her financially troublesome car, investigators said, the teacher offered a tantalizing possibility — passing grades.

Now, teacher and students are facing far more serious trouble than any report card or grade book could offer.

Tramesha Lashon Fox, 32, of Kingwood, is charged with insurance fraud, a first-degree felony, and arson, a second-degree felony, authorities said. Officers were still searching for her Tuesday evening after obtaining warrants for her arrest.

A listed phone number for Fox could not be found Tuesday.

The two students, Roger Luna, 18, of the 100 block of Coach Lamp, and Darwin Arias, 17, of the 1100 block of Fallbrook, were also charged with arson. Luna was arrested Tuesday night, and Arias was making arrangements to surrender.

Fox, in an interview with
Harris County fire marshal's investigators last week, admitted to conspiring with the two students to destroy her 2003 Chevrolet Malibu so she could collect insurance proceeds. In exchange, she told investigators, she gave the students passing grades.

Luna and Arias had been failing Fox's class up until their final exam, but secured grades high enough to pass the semester, investigators said. Arias was given a score of 90 on the final after "miserably" failing the course the previous semester, and Luna was given an 80, said senior fire investigator Dustin Deutsch of the Harris County Fire Marshal's Office.

Aldine Independent School District officials said Tuesday they knew little about the case. Fox, who completed her first year of teaching there, remains employed. School officials have not yet reviewed the law enforcement report that led to the charges against her.

Once the
Harris County fire marshal's report is in hand, "our folks will then do a thorough investigation and then make a decision as far as employment status," said Leticia Fehling, Aldine ISD spokeswoman.

Fox previously worked for the
Houston Independent School District, where she was a teacher at Welch Middle School. Records show HISD originally hired her in August 2000.

Fox was at least three months behind on her car payments and facing repossession when her vehicle was reported stolen on May 27, Deutsch said. The car had been destroyed by fire when it was found 12 days later in a wooded area near Arias' home.

Investigators say Fox had bought a new car, a 2005 Toyota Corolla, before the older car was reported stolen and burned. She owed about $20,000 on the Chevrolet, Deutsch said.

Deutsch said the students thought Fox was joking when she first approached them on campus in early May about the conspiracy. As she continued to pursue them, they realized she was serious.

The alleged plan called for Fox to leave her car unlocked at Northline Mall. On May 27, the last day of school, both students drove to the mall and found Fox's car unsecured with the windows down and the keys in the passenger compartment.

After the car was dumped in a wooded area in the 1300 block of Fallbrook, it was doused with charcoal lighter fluid and burned. The vehicle was vandalized and its steering column broken to make the car theft appear genuine, Deutsch said. Fox reported the theft to police that same day.

The torched car wasn't found until June 8. Investigators then traced the vehicle to Fox.

When officers first talked to Fox, she implicated other students in the crime, indicating she must have been targeted in a revenge plot, Deutsch said. Luna and Arias were not among those she named, he said.

After calling her in for questioning last week, Fox admitted to the hatched plan.

One of Fox's neighbors wasn't surprised to learn of the alleged arson plot. Fox told neighbors that she was a teacher when she moved into the neighborhood last summer in the 2100 block of
North Park at Kings Manor, said Cinda Koh.

Neighbors were suspicious when Fox drove up with her new
Toyota because she often complained about subsisting on a public school teacher's meager salary, Koh said.

"She's always saying that she doesn't have any money and doesn't know how she's going to pay her bills," Koh said.
 
TOP OF PAGE

Texas House approves education bill
AP,
6/29/05

AUSTIN, Texas -- The Texas House has approved legislation that would give teachers a raise, lower taxes and ensure the state's 4.3 million students that school doors will be open for the new term.

The bill approved Tuesday is the first part of a package of school funding legislation that brought lawmakers back to the Capitol this summer for a special session, their fourth attempt in the past three years.

The measure next goes to the Senate for consideration.

"I'm going to vote for this bill because I don't want the perfect to get in the way of the good," said Republican Rep. Dan Branch of
Dallas, before the 77-69 vote.

The quagmire has threatened school funding this year and been embarrassing to Republican Gov. Rick Perry, who is seeking re-election to a second full term in 2006. The governor has said he was prepared to keep lawmakers in session all summer, if necessary.

The plan approved Tuesday would give teachers an average $1,500 pay raise in lieu of a $1,000 health care stipend. The measure also prescribes teacher incentive pay programs, including $100 million aimed at improving student performance at at-risk campuses.

School property taxes, now capped at $1.50 per $100 of property value, would be reduced to a maximum $1.20 in 2006 and $1.15 in 2007. Lawmakers haven't yet decided how they'll pay for reduced property taxes.

In 1989, the Texas Supreme Court threw out the state's school funding law after finding "glaring disparities" between rich and poor school districts. Lawmakers later forced property-rich school districts to share some wealth with poorer ones in what came to be called the "Robin Hood" plan.

After a trial brought by 300 districts, both rich and poor, a judge ruled last year the education funding system was unconstitutional, agreeing with the districts that they didn't have enough money to provide an adequate education. The state has appealed the ruling.

The latest measure, which gives districts a minimum of 3 percent more money in 2006 than they would under current law, would not end the Robin Hood system.

"Robin Hood is still going to be alive, he may not have all his merry men, but he'll be alive," said Rep. Rene Oliveira, a Brownsville Democrat who opposed the plan.
 
TOP OF PAGE

State education board votes to disband
Wellston School District  
By Matt Franck,
St. Louis Post-Dispatch Jefferson City Bureau, 6/30/05

JEFFERSON CITY - The State Board of Education needed only a 12-minute conference call Wednesday to effectively dissolve the 111-year-old Wellston School District.

The unprecedented action means that unless the school district wins a last-minute legal battle today,
Missouri will for the first time disband an elected local school board. The state takeover is slated to take place at midnight tonight.

The state school board voted unanimously by conference call to hand control of the district to a three-member panel led by an assistant state education commissioner.

The step is the most severe sanction ever against a
Missouri school district. And as a flurry of court action Wednesday proved, the move also places the state in uncharted legal territory.
 
Throughout the day Wednesday, Wellston district attorney Charles Ford asked the Cole County Circuit Court to place a freeze on the state takeover. That motion was denied in the morning, but a second judge said he would hear arguments on the matter this morning.

Ford said the state has not given the district proper credit for improvements in test scores and in lowering its dropout rate. Ford is seeking to halt the takeover until the district has presented its case in court.

State officials, however, are moving ahead as if control will switch hands tonight.

The state board named former St. Louis Public Schools administrator Charles Brown to serve as interim superintendent of the district. Brown currently oversees the state's urban education programs. He will remain a state employee while carrying out his new duties.

Joining Brown in the district's new leadership are Garry Beals and Cassandra M. Hollins-Wallace. Both are residents of the school district. Beals is director of alternative programs in the
Ferguson-Florissant School District. Hollins-Wallace is a parent educator for the Ritenour School District and the wife of a current Wellston board member.

"We want to do whatever it takes to help our children get the best education possible," Beals said.

The three-member panel replaces the seven-member elected board in day-to-day oversight, though the state retains ultimate control of the district.

Brown said his first action would be communicating with the district's staff, whose employment is in limbo amid the takeover. Brown said he hopes to inform all teachers within 10 days of their status. But Education Commissioner Kent King said he does not expect high turnover in teaching staff.

State officials can't yet say whether parents will continue to be able to transfer their children from Wellston to other public school districts. Dozens of parents were allowed to do that once the district lost academic accreditation.

King said he would allow children who have previously transferred to continue attending other schools. But it's unclear from a legal standpoint whether parents have the right to seek transfers in the future.

Wellston Superintendent Ronald Stodghill traveled to
Jefferson City to watch as the state board essentially fired him. Moments later he offered only a few words.

"I just hope the best thing happens for the young people of our district," he said.

State officials say there's no way of predicting how long the Wellston district will remain under state control. When asked to offer a guess, King instead borrowed a phase he's heard used in conjunction with troops pulling out of
Iraq.

"We don't have an exit timeline," he said.
 
TOP OF PAGE

These schools sell education for profit
Private companies make millions running charters
By Jennifer Mrozowski, Cincinnati Enquirer staff writer, 6/30/05
 
Ohio's public charter schools are increasingly being run by private companies paid hundreds of millions of dollars to educate kids in non-traditional ways.

Unlike traditional public schools that make no profits, "education management firms" are a growing, for-profit industry. They'll receive more than $200 million in state and local funds to operate at least 55 schools with nearly 30,000 students this year. That's about half of the $428 million for charters overall.

Soon, the companies may control more schools.

Gov. Bob Taft is expected to sign a state budget today authorizing 60 new charters. Education companies, which already run about one-fifth of
Ohio's 249 charter schools, are expected to apply for more.

Locally, seven of 30 charters are managed by for-profit companies with another,
Queen City Academy in Roselawn, set to open in the fall.

The remaining are operated by former public school teachers and principals, business owners or non-profit organizations.

"Our focus is on educating students and developing a fiscally responsible school organization so we don't need to do what many traditional public schools do, which is constantly go back to the taxpayers in their communities and demand more money," says Mark Thimmig, CEO of White Hat Management, the largest for-profit education company in Ohio.

As the number of privately managed schools multiplies, so do the critics. They say the firms reap profits by skimping on operating costs, charging excessive fees and hiring inexperienced teachers. Local school districts say they suffer, too, when students leave their districts for charters, taking with them at least $5,169 in state and local funding for each student.

Academically, charters average some of the lowest test scores in
Ohio. More than half receiving state ratings for student achievement ranked at the lowest levels.

"Students are being lured to these schools based on slick advertising and big promises, but they are, in fact, losing their only real opportunity to get a good education," says Tom Mooney, president of the Ohio Federation of Teachers union.

One company, 13,000 students

David Brennan, an
Akron lawyer who made part of his fortune running steel mills, owns White Hat Management. The company operates 34 Ohio charter schools that enroll more than 13,000 students - enough to make up the 11th largest school system in the state. The state will pay his company more than $109 million this year.

Half of Brennan's schools that received academic ratings in the 2003-04 school year were labeled in "academic emergency" or "academic watch" - the state's worst categories for student performance.

Brennan wouldn't comment for this story. But White Hat's Web site said he grew passionate about improving education after finding that his manufacturing employees were functionally illiterate despite attending public schools. He decided to create his own company to offer better alternatives in K-12 education.

Charters - tuition-free, privately run public schools - provided an option. The schools are guided by a contract that describes their goals. They often have more freedom to experiment with curriculum because they aren't controlled by a district.

Management companies increasingly operate charters, with some providing lessons, hiring teachers, crafting the budget and buying buildings and supplies.

Some companies solicit volunteers to serve on a school board, which then hires the company. Or charter founders, some with little expertise operating a school seek out the companies to run the schools.

Most of Brennan's schools are Life Skills Centers, which are geared toward dropouts. Students do most of their schoolwork at computer terminals that line the blue-gray walls of the facilities. They work at their own pace in the schools, often in former office space in strip malls.

His schools, which receive state funding based on student enrollment, send most of their revenue to White Hat Management, according to a routine state audit.

Such corporate control of
America's public schools has tripled in the past five years, and most of the increase has been in charters. For-profit companies operate 10 percent of charters, according to the Education Commission of the States, a non-partisan public policy institute based in Denver. That number is expected to rise.

'Drive for excellence'

National Heritage Academies, another large education company, operates 51 schools nationally, including two in
Cincinnati. In 2003, the Grand Rapids, Mich., private company was named one of the fastest-growing in the nation by Inc. magazine.

J.C. Huizenga, a printing plate magnate, founded National Heritage Academies in 1995. Huizenga's schools offer a "back-to-basics" curriculum that emphasizes virtues, morals and patriotism - traits Huizenga says he believes are lacking in traditional public schools.

One of his
Cincinnati schools, Alliance Academy, is rated in academic emergency. The other has not yet been rated.

Huizenga says it may take years for new charter schools show significant improvement, in part, because many of the students come from low-performing public schools.

"Once you've gone through nine years, you've had the opportunity to influence your classes from kindergarten right on through every grade," he says. "At that time, you've got a more normalized school, and it shouldn't take you long to pass the line of excellence."

Huizenga says he's proud to be a for-profit company, which can help to improve quality and cut costs.

"Without competition, there is no drive for excellence," he says.

Exactly how much money education companies make is unknown because they don't have to disclose their profits.

Some experts say millions of taxpayer dollars go straight to the for-profit companies, and they question how much is spent on providing quality education.

"In large part, a lot of money is siphoned off for management fees. It doesn't get to instruction," says Gary Miron, chief of staff at the
Evaluation Center at Western Michigan University, which has studied charters and management companies.

State statistics offer some insight into the firms' operations. The average teacher in White Hat schools earned $29,000 and had 2.2 years' experience in 2003-04. That compares to an average teacher salary of $46,700 and 14 years' experience in the state's public schools.

Inexperienced teachers can be a factor in low student achievement, says Martin Carnoy, a research associate at the Economic Policy Institute, a non-partisan think tank in
Washington, D.C. Carnoy is co-author of "The Charter School Dust-Up," a recent book that examined enrollment and achievement nationally.

Anger ends in court

The business practices of some firms also have become public through lawsuits.

In 2002, the board of one
Cincinnati charter school grew so angry at its management company's alleged profit-making that it sued to close its own school.

The board of the former Sabis International School of Cincinnati said the firm, Minnesota-based Sabis Educational Systems Inc., charged the school excessive rent - $1 million annually - to lease a building the company owned.

After the lawsuits, the school closed. A school run by the same management company since has opened under a different name in the same
Mount Auburn building.

"We did not charge in excess of what was a fair and contractually-agreed-to rate," says Jose Afonso, the firm's director of governmental affairs. "Children's education never once was adversely affected."

The new school is rated in academic emergency, but Afonso says it's too soon to judge it.

"If you want quick results and a quick turnaround, that's not going to happen," he says. "We're oftentimes getting the families who are dissatisfied with their children's learning in the local school. That's a fact. We're getting kids who were performing below grade level. That's a fact. We're getting kids who are predominantly low-income. ...We're not promising a quick fix. We're in it for the long haul."

Despite the criticism from some corners, for-profit companies say parents and students care more about the quality of the program than who manages the schools.

Mount Healthy resident Corey Woolfolk, 22, who graduated this month from the Life Skills Center on Reading Road, says he went to the school after being kicked out of Withrow High School.

"I don't know what I would've done otherwise," he says. "It saved me from the streets, basically."
 
TOP OF PAGE

City teachers being replaced
State school board approves restructuring plans intended to improve lowest-performing schools; Drastic staffing measures being taken at weakest three
By Sara Neufeld,
Baltimore Sun Staff, 6/30/05

Moving to turn around some of
Baltimore's worst-performing schools, the state school board approved a plan yesterday to replace teachers and other staff at three schools with persistently low test scores.

In a related action, city school officials said they are planning to replace part of the staff at several other schools.

At Cherry Hill Elementary/Middle School, everyone from the principal down to the secretaries was required this spring to reapply for their jobs, said city schools Chief Academic Officer Linda Chinnia. Chinnia said much of the staff at Northeast and
West Baltimore middle schools also had to reapply, but she could not provide specifics - except to say that West Baltimore will get a new principal and Northeast will not.

The three schools are among 24 in the state - 22 of them in Baltimore and two in Prince George's County - that have repeatedly failed to make adequate progress on the annual standardized tests mandated by the federal No Child Left Behind Act and are required by the state to restructure for the coming school year.

Mayor Martin O'Malley, who three weeks ago called the
Baltimore school system "one of the biggest turnaround stories of any urban school system in the United States of America," issued a statement yesterday that said: "Some of our schools are making progress faster than others. We are glad the state accepted the city's plan for restructuring these schools, and we hope this will move these schools in the right direction."

The state approved restructuring plans for all 24 schools, despite concerns of Baltimore City Council President Sheila Dixon and others that parents were not involved in the implementation of the city's plans, as required by law, and that similar plans at other failing schools have been ineffective.

"I think it's a good point of beginning," state Superintendent
Nancy S. Grasmick said. "Time will tell if it's sufficient."

In most cases, the restructuring plans involve appointing an administrator to work with the principal and staff on reform.
Dixon and Barbara R. Davidson, president of StandardsWork, a Washington education nonprofit, sent a letter to Grasmick expressing "our grave concern about the quality of those plans and the extent to which they represent any real chance for turning the schools around."

Drastic measures

Requiring a school's staff to reapply is one of the most drastic reforms available to school districts. It was a tactic used in 2001 by former city schools chief Carmen V. Russo in 10 low-performing schools that she said she hoped to turn into an "educational paradise." One of the 10 was West Baltimore Middle, now undergoing the process again.

Around the country, the practice has taken on different names - "keystoning" in
Philadelphia, "reconstitution" in California and, now in Baltimore, "zero-basing." Whatever the title, state officials said, it is reserved for dire situations:

Northeast Middle, which underwent an overhaul in 1998, has had four principals in five years, according to its restructuring plan. More than a third of teachers are conditionally certified. This spring, more than four in five seventh-graders failed the state math test.

At West Baltimore Middle, where a seventh-grader was stabbed last year, nearly half of teachers have conditional or provisional certification, the restructuring plan says. More than 80 percent of seventh- and eighth-graders failed their math tests this spring.

At Cherry Hill Elementary/Middle, 84 percent of teachers do not meet the definition of "highly qualified" as required under No Child Left Behind. Eighty-nine percent of eighth-graders failed their math test this year; 100 percent failed last year. More than 90 percent of seventh-graders failed in math.

Still, Cherry Hill Principal Sharlette Jones-Carnegie said her school was making progress.

"I'm just baffled by the decision," said Jones-Carnegie, who has led the school for four years. "I had a vision and the vision was to help
Cherry Hill be a school any parent would be proud for their child to attend. Because of this decision, I haven't been able to fulfill that vision."

Held accountable

Baltimore City Councilman Kenneth N. Harris Sr. said making staffers at troubled schools reapply for their jobs might be unpopular, but it is necessary.

"Efforts like this are just what the doctor ordered to help cure the deficiencies in our ability to properly educate our children," said Harris, who chairs the City Council education committee. "Everyone has to be held accountable, from the principal to the janitor. The welfare of our children is at stake."

Though schools were not required to implement their restructuring plans unless they failed to make "adequate yearly progress" on the round of standardized tests given this spring, city school officials began planning for the overhauls at
West Baltimore, Northeast and Cherry Hill this winter, Chinnia said. Staff was notified in April because the district could not wait any later to make staffing decisions for next school year.

"We weren't going to wait until June when the AYP data came out," Chinnia said. "We were certain that, no matter what, that was the best option, for these schools to restructure."

Chinnia said the school system is doing partial staff replacement and appointing new principals at "several" schools independent from the state-approved plans, but she did not know how many.

Teachers union president Marietta English said the union has been involved in interviewing teachers reapplying for their jobs and ensuring that those who are not hired back at their old schools or who wish to change schools are transferred to schools of their choice.

Teachers "in good standing" are guaranteed a job somewhere, Chinnia said: "We're not firing people."

At yesterday's state school board meeting, the controversy was not over whether zero-basing is needed, but whether the reforms planned for the other failing schools are enough.

The state board's vice president, Dunbar Brooks, voted against the restructuring plans for the city schools because they haven't proved to be effective. Most of the schools will hire administrators, or "turnaround specialists," to help raise test scores, as did 27 city schools last school year. Brooks said those 27 schools have shown "absolutely no evidence of success."

"In some schools ... instead of going up, they went down," he said.

Chinnia said the turnaround specialists have been in schools for as little as six months, too short a period to judge their effectiveness. And she said some of the schools did post impressive gains.

Chief Executive Officer Bonnie S. Copeland said her staff has given "blood, sweat and tears ... to put together the right intervention."

Grasmick challenged the district's efforts to engage parents in developing the reform plans, saying Dixon and Davidson - who were hosts of a forum this month to explain restructuring - were "able to capture the attention of parents in a way that many of the schools in the system have not been able to do."

She quoted
Dixon and Davidson's letter, which read in part: "In one school alone we talked to over 150 parents and not a single one, including the head of the PTA, knew anything about school restructuring."

Copeland and Chinnia vigorously defended their efforts to reach out to parents.

"The thing that is not in our control is the desire, the motivation of the parents to get involved," Copeland said.

But at least one step mentioned by city officials - involvement of the Baltimore Council of PTAs - was disputed.

"There very well could have been some parents involved," said Michael Hamilton, president of the council. "As a body, we were not involved. ... You would think that we would be aware to help prepare our students for these dramatic changes."
 
TOP OF PAGE

Voucher Plan Expansion Considered
Senators Weigh Using Schools Outside D.C.
By Spencer S. Hsu and V.
Dion Haynes, Washington Post Staff Writers, 6/30/05

Senate Republicans are considering changes to the D.C. school voucher program that could include increasing the $7,500 annual limit on the scholarships and allowing students to use them at private schools outside the city, according to District, congressional and program officials.

Two key Democratic senators said they would oppose such measures, arguing that Congress should wait until the five-year pilot program has run its course before considering changes.

In an interview, D.C. Mayor Anthony A. Williams (D) also expressed concern about any alterations, but his spokesman later said that Williams has not ruled out such options.

The voucher legislation passed by Congress last year provides low-income D.C. children with federal grants of up to $7,500 to cover tuition and other expenses at private schools in the city. Nearly 1,000 students and 53 schools participated last year, and those figures are expected to climb to 1,600 students and at least 67 schools this fall.

Those who support raising the voucher amount and allowing private schools outside the District to participate cite a shortage of high school slots in the program.

According to the Washington Scholarship Fund, the nonprofit group that administers the vouchers, 40 to 80 students who have been offered the scholarships for this fall may not be able to use them because of the lack of openings in the upper grades.

Sally Sachar, president and chief executive of the fund, said high school tuition is generally much more than $7,500, and a higher voucher limit could help students who cannot find a high school in the District to accommodate them.

Sachar said the proposal would not increase the $12.1 million annual federal appropriation for the vouchers because the scholarship fund would use $5 million left over from the first year of the program.

"What we want to avoid is having families wanting to use a scholarship and not having a program to choose," Sachar said. "We've been exploring with the mayor and people on the Hill what options might be available to solve this problem."

Aides to Sen. Sam Brownback (R-Kan.), chairman of the Senate Appropriations subcommittee on the District, are reviewing possible changes in the program that would be added to the $9 billion D.C. budget bill once Congress returns from its Independence Day recess next week.

Staff members in Brownback's office said yesterday that it was premature to comment on what changes are being considered. But Sachar said the ideas include increasing the voucher limit and expanding the program to schools in
Northern Virginia and suburban Maryland.

U.S. Education Department spokeswoman Susan Aspey said senators have "talked to us about some ideas to address capacity issues in the program."

A Senate battle over vouchers could put an obstacle in the unusually clear road the D.C. budget bill has had this year. Last night, the House neared final passage of the District's 2006 budget, a spending plan that includes $8.3 billion in local funds and $560.3 million in federal aid, which is part of a larger $60 billion spending bill funding the transportation, treasury and housing agencies, among others.

In 2003, approval of the D.C. budget was held up for months while the White House, a Republican Congress and Williams pushed through passage of the voucher program by a one-vote margin in the House.
 
On Tuesday, the mayor said he had strong reservations about possible Senate changes to the program.

"Why don't we leave well enough alone?" Williams said. "We talked about testing this out over a period of three [more] years. I mean, Jesus, Lord -- that's my initial reaction."

Yesterday, however, spokesman Vince Morris called to say that Williams "doesn't like it, but he's not yet opposed to it. . . . He's looking at all options that will ensure that kids who want to pursue their education have the opportunity and are not frozen out."

Other Democrats were less supportive of changes in the program.

Sen. Mary Landrieu (D-La.), the ranking Democrat on the D.C. subcommittee, said the proposals "raise important questions. . . . However, we are only in the second year of a five-year demonstration period, and changing the parameters of an experiment in midcourse could potentially invalidate our findings."

Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), a key supporter of the voucher legislation that received final congressional passage last year, said: "I am opposed to any expansion of this program. It is a one-time, five-year pilot project, and the results should be duly considered prior to any request for expansion."

Sachar said the scholarship fund is deferring to elected leaders to decide the best way "to ensure that the program works from the perspective of schools and families." But, she added, "there may be a mismatch in supply and demand between students looking for spaces and the spaces available. . . .. We may not have enough capacity in the District."
 
TOP OF PAGE

U.S. invades kids' privacy
Opinion by Sandra Lowe, mother of four and a school board trustee in
Sonoma, CA, USA Today, 6/29/05

The Defense Department has crossed the privacy line. At your local high school, buried under emergency cards and red tape, is a little-known requirement. Under the No Child Left Behind (NCLB) law, unless school districts want to lose much-needed federal funds, they must release student data to military recruiters.

They must also allow parents to opt out. Many parents don't know they can ask to get their children off recruiters' lists. That's an issue, but recent Pentagon revelations expose a more disturbing problem.

The opt-out clause was meant to give parents a choice that preserves family privacy. But they didn't tell us, opt out or not, the Defense Department is tracking your kid and my kid with a separate, privately purchased database, and we have no choice. Even if we opt our children out through our local school district, all their information remains on the Department of Defense's mega-database without our consent.

The sanctity of our families is now secondary to the marketing of our children.

If we're in a Do Not Call Registry, it won't matter. We can opt out on the NCLB form, and it won't matter. We can send our children to private or public school, they can be 18 or 16, girls or boys, and it won't matter. According to the Defense Department, they need to do this and, yes, they forgot to tell us that they've been doing it since 2002.

There's no excuse for violating the privacy of children. There's no governmental purpose to collecting their grades, much less their races. There's no legitimate reason to ignore the rights of parents to restrict strangers from contacting their children. There's no way to justify a wholesale database of likely targets from a pool of minors.

Our military can and must fulfill recruitment needs while preserving our family privacy. It is not an either-or proposition. Concerned parents can go to the Web site www.leavemychildalone.org to learn how to opt their children out of the Pentagon's databank. We can contact our lawmakers and urge them stop this dangerous violation of our privacy rights. We must change this policy, or No Child Left Behind will really mean, "Hey kid, we got your number."

TOP OF PAGE

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