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News Clips

News Clips – July 8 - 15, 2005

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STATE  
Teachers group goes after Bush’s No Child Left Behind law / Chicago Defender
Salt Creek schools probed / Chicago Tribune
Pension critics: Fix school funding / Decatur Herald & Review
Schools to offer uniform vouchers / Belleville News-Democrat
Special education major topic for NEA / Pantagraph
Rauschenberger concerned about Illinois' schools / Pantagraph
SICA dispute back in mediation / Northwest Indiana Times
CPS considers first all-boys public schools in 30 years / Chicago Sun-Times
Glenbard may offer installment plan for books / Chicago Tribune
City preschools get a boost / Chicago Tribune
Religious schools in bid for charters / Chicago Tribune
USF joins high school education program / Herald News
Marion teachers file suit against district / Southern Illinoisan
Lottery was never intended to remedy school financing / Rockford Register Star

NATIONAL
School Reform Moves to the Suburbs / New York Times
Teachers would commit to job in exchange for free rent / Washington Post
All-laptop high school to open in Vail / Arizona Daily Star
Goodbye, Class. See You in the Fall / New York Times
Even more of Detroit's schools could close as 10,000 kids leave / Detroit Free Press
Phone probe leaves three school custodians out of work / Boston Globe
Don't Leave 'No Child' Act Behind / Christian Science Monitor
Utah Snubs “No Child Left Behind / All Headline News
'Senioritis is alive and well,' tests show / Chicago Sun-Times
Schools financial manager approved / Times-Picayune (LA)
Manhunt: Schools try to attract more male teachers / CNN.com

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STATE

Teachers group goes after Bush’s No Child Left Behind law
By Molly Brown, Medill News Service,
7/8/05

A group of teachers can be a tough crowd.

At a recent Golden Apple Awards ceremony to recognize outstanding teachers, the emcee had a hard time convincing the audience to show enthusiasm. After several failed attempts to rouse the group, he finally cracked a joke: "I have to tell you, I've just seen the latest news release – and No Child Left Behind has been left behind!"

The place erupted with applause and cheers, according to Sophie Haroutunian-Gordon, a professor at
Northwestern University's School of Education and Social Policy. "I've never heard of any teacher in the trenches who supports No Child Left Behind," she said.
 
A drastic overhaul to the public education system, the federal No Child Left Behind Act of 2002 was one of President George W. Bush's biggest selling points during his 2000 campaign. Conservatives wanted more testing and accountability in the country's flailing public schools. Under the legislation, the bottom line for local school districts is improve test scores or lose federal dollars.

But critics of the law believe the federal government unfairly added more responsibility to local schools without providing the money to get the job done. In April, the National Education Association and several school districts filed the first national lawsuit against the U.S. Department of Education and Secretary Margaret Spellings, charging the government with creating an unconstitutional, unfunded mandate.

The Illinois Education Association is one of 10 NEA chapters and nine school districts nationwide to join the case.

According to the lawsuit,
Illinois was shortchanged by $380 million in 2005 and will receive $566 million less than it needs to meet the No Child Left Behind requirements in 2006.

"We want people to understand that we support the goal of No Child Left Behind," said Charles McBarron, director of communications for the Illinois Education Association. "We just strongly believe if you're going to regulate, you need to pay for the mandates you hand out."

Several states also have challenged No Child Left Behind requirements.
Utah passed a law earlier this year allowing schools to ignore federal education mandates. In doing so, it will sacrifice $76 million in federal education funds. Connecticut has threatened to sue the education department for reasons similar to the NEA lawsuit, and more than 30 other states have requested some leniency in meeting the law's requirements.

Haroutunian-Gordon and others predict that more states, organizations and school districts will file lawsuits, reject federal funds or use other means to buck No Child Left Behind requirements by next year.

Jack Jennings, president of the Center on Education Policy, a Washington, D.C.-based watchdog group, agreed that the NEA lawsuit and other state initiatives are increasing pressure on the federal government.

"It's fair to be demanding as long as they provide the tools to meet those demands," he said. "No company would redesign a sales line without retraining everyone, creating a new marketing campaign or investing money in the changes."

Based on student testing during the 2002-2003 school year, 350
Chicago schools were identified as needing improvement -- that is, the number of students meeting the No Child Left Behind's math and reading goals was too low.

According to Xavier Botana, director of
Chicago's No Child Left Behind office, those numbers do not always reflect what is happening in the schools.

He said of the 350 underperforming schools, 75 percent made gains and 100 schools made significant gains compared to the previous year.

About 10 percent of the city's public school funding comes from federal money. That amount increased by 17 percent, or $40 million, since No Child Left Behind was passed. While Botana acknowledged it is a significant increase, he added, "We've been very clear that this increase is not enough. We consider No Child Left Behind to be an unfunded mandate."

Although the
Chicago Public Schools, as well as the state, probably will not file any lawsuits like the NEA's, Botana says it's an effective way to get attention.

Cheri Pierson Yecke, a former senior official at the Department of Education under the Bush administration and a No Child Left Behind advocate from Minnesota, said although some consider the law to be an underfunded mandate, it's up to individual states whether to participate. Choosing not to participate means giving up money.

"What is No Child asking schools to do that they aren't already doing?" Yecke asked. "If
Minnesota opted out, we'd still test students. We'd still hold them accountable. What would we gain by giving up $200 million?"

According to Yecke, states and schools were never held accountable before the law, and she contends the public is misinformed about how No Child Left Behind works.

But she does agree there is room for improvement. Yecke said testing needs to show students' improvements from one school year to the next, and not compare them to previous groups of students. She also recommends that students with disabilities be measured differently.

Those suggestions may make it into the new and improved No Child Left Behind law. In April, Spellings announced a more workable, "common sense" approach and said she was open to suggestions for change.

Illinois State Board of Education spokeswoman Becky Watts said flexibility will help.

"We feel working with [federal officials] . . . is the better way to get the law changed," she said.

In March, the Center on Education Policy released the first comprehensive report on the No Child Left Behind Act. According to the study, 36 states and at least 72 percent of school districts -- including the
Chicago public schools – contend that test scores are improving and performance gaps between whites and minorities are closing.

But the report also reveals that states and school districts do not have enough money to reach all schools. Forty states report that inadequate funding poses a "serious or moderate challenge" to implementing No Child Left Behind's standards due to cutbacks in teacher recruiting and the additional pressure teachers face when helping students with special language needs.

In order to meet guidelines to receive federal funding, more schools are changing their curriculum to emphasize math and reading skills and de-emphasizing social studies and science because No Child Left Behind does not test those subjects. That's a move teachers think will hurt students' cognitive skills in the long run, according to the center.

A majority of school districts tagged as needing improvement received less federal funding in the 2004-2005 school year than the previous year. While the overall federal education budget grew slightly in 2004-2005, Bush's 2006 budget

is planning to make cuts.

Gail Sunderman, who studies No Child Left Behind for
Harvard University's Civil Rights Project, said the law's mandates are "unreasonable or very difficult for schools to implement."

"The mechanisms on how schools are identified for improvement underserves low income and minority students," she said.

According to Sunderman, No Child Left Behind is based more on ideology than actual research. Two of its biggest components – supplemental tutoring and annual testing – have no supporting research that demonstrates they actually improve student performance. In fact, she said, there is evidence to the contrary.

"Teaching [students to take] the test really narrows the curriculum," Sunderman said.

And she said she does not expect improvement any time soon.

"The department of education has been very inflexible and very punitive," Sunderman said. "Spellings has talked about being more flexible, but I haven't seen it."

Sunderman and
Northwestern University's Haroutunian-Gordon support the NEA's lawsuit. Both say it is a positive step to changing an unfair law.

"The real issue here is, are these expectations realistic for a given group of students?" said Haroutunian-Gordon. "We've learned from our finest researchers that serious reform comes from within schools, not from the outside.

"The more protests about this thing, the better.”

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Salt Creek schools probed
State investigating alleged misspending by the tiny district
By
Diane Rado, Chicago Tribune staff reporter, 7/10/05

Strapped for cash and under attack by parents and teachers, tiny
Salt Creek School District 48 in DuPage County is under investigation by the Illinois attorney general's office over allegations of misspending taxpayer dollars.

The elementary school district, based in
Villa Park, recently received subpoenas, and attorney general's staff members visited Friday to interview employees, Supt. Mary Summers said.

The turmoil puts the district--which operates three schools, in
Elmhurst, Oakbrook Terrace and Villa Park--in the spotlight with some of the most unusual school budget troubles in Illinois.

Not only is it rare for the attorney general's office to investigate local school finances, it is a surprise for such a wealthy district to be in a financial pinch.

Salt Creek is the fourth-richest district in the state, flush with tax revenue from the upscale Oak Brook shopping area. It has the second-lowest school tax rate in
Illinois and spent $12,653 per pupil in 2004 on some 550students, far higher than the state average.

Records submitted to the attorney general's office indicate that the district tapped three special purpose grants--including a Medicaid account for low-income disabled students--to pay about $20,000 in expenses for travel to
Orlando, San Diego, Phoenix and other locations.

Atty. Gen. Lisa Madigan's office declined to comment.

Summers initially told the Tribune that to her knowledge, Medicaid money was never used for the trips--it was listed in the records as a possible way to pay for travel expenses. She later said she believed the account used to help pay for the trips was mislabeled as a Medicaid account.

Tim Costello, a physical education teacher in Salt Creek and former president of the local teachers union, called that explanation "totally bogus."

Costello said he contacted the attorney general's office last fall with allegations of improper spending and turned over district credit-card statements obtained through state Freedom of Information laws.

School records also show that since 2002, the district has been borrowing heavily to pay bills, slashing expenses and imploring voters for more money. Taxpayers have turned down five referendum proposals since March 2002.

Since then, the district has cut at least a dozen teachers and staff members; shelved summer school and gifted programs and eliminated or cut back foreign language, drama, art, computer and other classes.

The cherished 53-year-old band and orchestra program was to be eliminated in the upcoming school year, but school officials agreed last month to try to salvage some of it. Meanwhile, class sizes and school fees have been rising, and test scores have declined.

"They've damaged the community with the things they've done," said Linda Arnold, one of nearly 100 parents and residents who spoke at a rancorous school board meeting last month.

In the span of 2 1/2 hours, residents berated board members and Summers for cutting programs as well as launching a $4 million school repair project that not all said was necessary.

"I feel the board has acted irrationally and irresponsibly," said Sharon Doyle, who attended Salt Creek schools as a child and now has three children enrolled.

When the school board moved to end public discussion, some audience members shouted in protest. "What exactly are you afraid of if you let us speak," one woman yelled.

School Board President Richard Auskalnis told the Tribune last week that the situation is chaotic and no wrongdoing has occurred.

The attorney general's investigation doesn't bother him, "because they're not going to find anything," he said.

Summers and Auskalnis attribute the investigation to a disgruntled teachers union--base pay for teachers has been frozen for four years--and the two sides are now in difficult contract negotiations.

A statewide database of
Illinois teacher pay shows that the average salary of Salt Creek teachers was $63,065 in 2003-04, higher than all but a handful of elementary districts in the state.

Costello says union members agreed to the pay freeze because of the district's financial difficulties. He and another teacher, Peter Lograsso, went to the attorney general only after teachers complained about board and administrator spending and the district's decline.

"It has been a complete downward spiral into the toilet," said Lograsso, a music teacher and orchestra director who lost his job at the end of the school year.

The district's financial problems didn't surface overnight, according to reports and correspondence from auditors.

The auditors noted overspending in June 1998, saying district revenues grew by less than 5 percent that year, while expenditures increased by more than 12 percent.

In March 1999, the district borrowed about $2 million for school improvements using "certificates of participation," considered a riskier method of financing than bonds approved by voters. That's because the money is repaid from regular revenues rather than extra tax dollars approved for a project.

Since then, Salt Creek has been spending about $170,000 a year from its education fund for teacher salaries to repay the money.

In June 2000, auditors also noted the district was approving some purchase orders through oral rather than written approvals, and that stronger controls were needed to prevent unauthorized expenditures. That same year, the district spent $2.26 million more than its revenues, and overspent the next two years as well.

Summers said the 2002 budget was already done by the time she got to the district, and she realized she needed to bring spending in line. "I knew when I came in I was going to have to be a change agent," she said.

Though the district ended the 2003 and 2004 years in the black, it had also been borrowing against future tax collections to make ends meet. For example, it borrowed $1.5 million in both 2003 and 2004 to cover operating expenses.

Despite the financial troubles, Summers and board members continued to travel, records submitted to the attorney general's office show.

While the district was preparing to ask voters for a tax increase in March 2002, Summers traveled to
San Diego in February 2002 for an American Association of School Administrators conference.

After a second referendum proposal was defeated in November 2002, Summers traveled to
New Orleans for another AASA conference. After a third referendum proposal was defeated in April 2003, Summers and some board members attended the National School Boards Association conference in San Francisco.

After a fourth referendum proposal was defeated in March 2004, Summers and at least two board members went to
Orlando for the National School Boards Association conference.

Summers said her contract allowed her to travel to conferences. Beginning next school year, she said, neither she nor board members would travel out of state using district dollars.

Records submitted to the attorney general's office indicate that the district tapped into three special-purpose funds for the travel: Safe to Learn grants for school safety projects; a state block grant for educational improvement and school safety programs; and Medicaid dollars reimbursed to districts for serving low-income special education students.

Summers said the Safe to Learn grants were used because the district's grant application specified that some of the money would be used for professional development. Staff at the Illinois Violence Prevention Authority, which distributed the grants, said the money could be used for conferences related to the grant's purpose.

Districts have flexibility in using the state block grant money, and the Illinois State Board of Education last fall said it did not believe Salt Creek misused any of those funds when its staff reviewed a complaint by the teachers union. In any case, Summers said last week that the block grant money was not used for an
Orlando conference that the union complained about.

She also said Medicaid money didn't pay for conferences, even though that account is listed on forms that appear to outline which funds were used to pay for trips.

Illinois State Board of Education spokeswoman Becky Watts said Medicaid money generally is used for services to low-income special education students, but it also can be used for activities supporting the administration of special education programs.

Whether money was used improperly would have to be determined on a case-by-case basis, she said.
 
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Pension critics: Fix school funding
Valerie Wells, Decatur Herald & Review,
7/10/05
 
DECATUR - The real problem with the state's pension fund reform isn't with the pension itself.
 
The problem is with how schools are funded, said Alida Graham, president of the Decatur Education Association.
 
"(Pension reform) does help to curtail some of the abuses that were going on in specific areas of the system," Graham said, "but it still really amplifies what has not been done over the long term and that is true school funding reform, which includes fully funding the pension plan."
 
Critics of the reform say the pension fund hasn't been fully funded for more than 30 years, and the legislature voted to take a two-year break from funding this year's reform. That will only make a bad situation worse, said
John Day, spokesman for the Teachers Retirement System.
 
"It's a major step backward from the 50-year funding plan," he said.
 
In 1995, legislators prepared a 50-year plan to get state pensions fully funded incrementally to try to correct the shortfall that had developed over the previous 35 years. State pension benefits are guaranteed by the
Illinois constitution and must be paid, even if other funds suffer to provide the money.
 
"We have far less in assets than we have in benefit obligations," Day said. "It's a huge burden overhanging future generations. The benefits are guaranteed, and the day of reckoning will come."
 
Day said he doesn't want retirees to worry that their pension payments won't be made; they will. The fund has $34 billion and the annual payout is a bit more than $2.5 billion. But as more teachers retire and funding from the state fails to keep up with payments as it has in the past, eventually the fund won't be able to bear the financial burden.
 
"The state cannot afford to be on a 'pay-as-you-go' basis," Day said. "They need to be working towards fully funding the retirement system. There's no two ways about it."
 
The state, Day said, is paying roughly 62 cents on the dollar for benefits that teachers have already earned.
 
State Rep. Bill Mitchell, R-Forsyth, calls the pension reform act "a disastrous public policy move."
"There are two critical points in this (state) budget," Mitchell said. "One was stealing from the pension system. The second part was we have funds. The alternative fuel fund, $2 million to promote ethanol. They took a million (dollars) from that fund to roll into the general revenue fund - 160-some funds they did that to. Already one court said you can't do that with workmen's compensation. It was established with a purpose, not to subsidize the state treasury."
 
Gov. Rod Blagojevich's administration contends that the entire package will save the state $30 billion over 40 years.
 
The reforms include a moratorium on benefit increases unless extra money can be generated. In the meantime, a task force of legislators and unions will look into the future of benefit increases.
 
End-of-career payouts to school teachers would be capped at 6 percent. If schools want to dole out more, the additional cost would have to be picked up by the local district.
 
Republicans believe the proposal could take more than $3 billion from the state's retirement system for the next four to five years.
 
Mitchell said he was present when representatives from the three state pension systems testified: the teachers, university and state employees. All three, he said, objected to the proposed reforms.
 
"We had a $1.2 billion deficit," he said. "They spent an additional billion dollars. When you have a budget shortfall in your household, do you spend more money?"
 
Illinois citizens, he said, are smart enough to know downstate is getting "the short end of the stick."
 
"We've got example after example of favoritism to the city of
Chicago," he said.
 
Chicago's teacher retirement system is 90 percent funded, he said, and they're getting an additional $75 million. Chicago State University is getting more funding this year, while Eastern Illinois University and Illinois State University's budgets remain the same as last year.
 
"It's bad public policy, and that's why I feel strongly about it," Mitchell said. "In 2006 and 2007 more schools will be on the (financial) watch list. We have no capital program this year. No roads will be built and the roads will go to hell.
 
"You don't like to tell people 'no,' but you have to be candid and say we have a fiscal problem. People are realistic enough to understand there's no free lunch in this world."

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Schools to offer uniform vouchers
Will help students meet new dress code
Ramona Curtis, Bellevillle News-Democrat, 7/12/05
 
BELLEVILLE - Students who require financial assistance to meet District 201's new school uniform policy will be given vouchers for two uniforms from participating metro-east businesses.
 
Under the plan, presented Monday by district business manager Darcy Benway during a special dress code committee meeting, students who meet guidelines for free and reduced lunches will qualify for the assistance. Benway estimates that about 1,200 students would qualify.
 
State law requires public school districts to help low-income students meet school uniform policies. However, the district is making efforts to avoid using school funds.
During the meeting Monday, administrators discussed grants that would help the district provide uniforms to qualifying students. Benway said grant applications have been submitted to Target, Wal-Mart and Pepsi.
 
The Rev. Darrell Coons, pastor of Hope Church in
Belleville, said his congregation has collected $725 to go toward providing school uniforms. He mailed letters to 58 other area congregations June 21 to request donations but has not yet received any replies, he said.
 
During the meeting, parent Theresa Alwood, who opposes the new policy, said she was concerned with the cost of clothing her two children. She fears her tax dollars will ultimately be used to clothe other students.
 
"When poor people can't afford it, taxpayers are going to be accountable," Alwood said. "You're not going to bulldoze my pocketbook because you can't enforce the dress code you already had."
 
Alwood was among more than 20 people who attended. Many spoke against the policy, which was approved by the board in March.
 
Student Amanda Gaston said she originally opposed the policy but now thinks it is needed because many students did not adhere to the dress code that was in place.
 
"I'm a girl and I love to shop, but we brought this on ourselves," Amanda said. "This is a punishment for not following the dress code."
 
Lillian Schneider said she was able to find clothing at a local department store for her son, who attends Belleville East. She spent about $70 for four shirts and three pairs of pants. She suggested the community start a recycling program so students who have outgrown their uniforms can make them available to others.
 
Community members also sought clarification on the new policy. One parent wanted to know why girls are allowed to wear capri pants and skirts but boys are not allowed to wear shorts.
 
"I have two sons, and my sons wear shorts 10 out of 12 months," said Roger Sigmund, who also works for the district. "How come shorts aren't being allowed? If you can make (length) limits on skirts and dresses on girls, why not let the boys' shorts come down the knee?"
 
Committee chairman Allen Scharf said the committee would deliberate on the issue.
 
Darlene Schaefer said she is concerned her two children will face disciplinary action over a policy she considers vague.
 
"We don't know what's allowable until someone comes in and says it's not," Schaefer said. "If you don't know, you have to give some flexibility in terms of sending them home the first week or the first month until this can be ironed out."
 
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Special education major topic for NEA / Pantagraph
By Phyllis Coulter, Pantagraph,
7/12/05

NORMAL - The No Child Left Behind Act discriminates against special-education students and may skew education toward subjects on standardized tests, educators heard at the latest National Education Association convention.

The federal education reform law was one topic discussed last week among 9,000 delegates gathered in
Los Angeles to talk about the issues affecting education.

The Representatives Assembly of the National Education Association meeting also focused on what the NEA sees as inadequate school funding.

"I see it as a national crisis," said Vickie Mahrt, president of the union chapter at the Normal-based Unit 5 school district, which has about 800 members. "Quality public education is a core of our society."

Teachers expressed concern when special-education students are tested the same way as mainstream students. What makes matters worse, they said, is schools can be penalized and even lose funding if those students don't reach annual progress standards based on those tests.

Mahrt, a special-education teacher and a member of the Illinois Education Association board of directors, said teachers want to help special-education students achieve the highest goals, but changes are needed in how they are tested.

Nancy Miller of rural
Bloomington, a teacher at Sheridan Elementary School who will teach at Irving Elementary School in Bloomington this fall, agreed that the issue of testing special-education students was a top priority.

NEA members also discussed fears that teachers may concentrate too much on reading, writing, science, math and social studies because those are subjects on the test.

"That's not a rich learning environment," Mahrt said. "We believe there are lots of things that are part of a well-rounded education. These include foreign language, music, visual arts and physical education."

The discussions will be followed up with lobbying at the national level and informing members about the issues, Mahrt said.
 
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Rauschenberger concerned about
Illinois' schools
Mary Ann Ford, Pantagraph, 7/13/05
 
BLOOMINGTON -- The state's education and health-care systems need to be restructured and the business climate improved, State Sen. Steve Rauschenberger said Tuesday.

"We're running Harry Truman's school system," Rauschenberger, a potential candidate for the Republican nomination for governor next year, told The Pantagraph's Editorial Board on Tuesday.
 
"We need to bring people to the table and decide what's good for the kids," he said.
 
The system -- built around a time when one parent usually was home to serve children lunch -- now needs to "reflect the stress and challenge of parents."
 
That doesn't necessarily mean an influx of more money, he said. Rauschenberger said the state should go with what it knows: Elementary classes should be small while high school classes can be larger and foreign languages are best introduced at the elementary level.
 
He said he believes school resources also can work as community resources and the state should take a hard look at the number of schools systems in the state.
 
Rauschenberger said about half of the more than 800 school districts in the state have less than 600 students and can't provide the needed resources.
 
"Change is not easy," he said. "We need a governor exerting leadership."
 
But the school system isn't the only thing that needs change, he said. Rauschenberger said the state needs a better health-care system.
 
In his hometown of
Elgin, for instance, there are two hospitals across the street from each other offering the same services but neither are operating at capacity.
 
"We (the
United States) have the best system, but we need to make it more rational," he said. "There's too much inpatient capacity."
 
Community hospitals might change from inpatient services to urgent-care centers, or hospitals could consolidate with financial help from the state, he said.
 
Medicare and Medicaid reimbursements need to change as well, he said, noting currently the procedure of inserting a stent is reimbursed at a higher rate than open-heart surgery.
 
"The state also needs to evaluate why we're 47th in the nation to recover from the recession," Rauschenberger said.
 
While
Illinois has rich soil, more Interstate highways than other states and good public and private university systems, it doesn't have a friendly business climate, he said.
 
"We're not making
Illinois a destination place," he said.
 
He blames the problem on the Blagojevich administration from
Chicago that "doesn't care about the interests of other parts of the state."
 
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SICA dispute back in mediation
Mike Clark,
Northwest Indiana Times, 7/13/05
 
Looks like the SICA split hasn't been finalized after all.
 
After the District 228 school board rejected a compromise proposal that would have ended the impasse, the 19 school districts that formerly comprised SICA have resumed talks aimed at reaching a new breakup plan. District 228 includes
Oak Forest, Hillcrest, Bremen and Tinley Park high schools.
 
"The parties are ... continuing to mediate in an effort to reach a solution agreeable to all," Illinois State Board of Education spokesperson Becky Watts wrote in an e-mail Tuesday.
 
The dispute dates back to last fall, when SICA schools approved a reorganization that split schools into three divisions, down from five. Proponents said the new alignment grouped schools with a similar scope of programs as well as by geography.
 
Officials in Districts 205, 215 and 227 -- all of whose schools would have been in the new SICA South -- voted against the plan, citing a lack of diversity. Superintendents
Bob Wilhite of D.215 and Kamala Buckner of D.205 asked Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan and the state board of education to look into the matter.
 
In February, Homewood-Flossmoor and nine more schools announced their intention to leave SICA at the end of the 2004-05 school year to form the SouthWest Suburban Conference. The defections continued this spring when members of the new SICA North said they would drop out of SICA to form the South Suburban Conference after the 2005-06 school year.
 
A compromise was reached that would send Thornton and Thornwood to the SWSC, and move T.F. North and T.F. South to the SSC. District 228's four schools would join the three Rich schools, Crete-Monee, Bloom Twp. and
Kankakee in a third conference.
 
But the D.228 board scuttled the proposal, citing scope-of-program concerns.
 
What happens if additional mediation fails to produce a solution?
 
"The State Board of Education will mobilize to schedule and hold a hearing in accordance with Section 22-19 of the School Code,"
Watts wrote.

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CPS considers first all-boys public schools in 30 years
Rosalind Rossi, Chicago Sun-Times
 
Six all-boys
Chicago public schools and a sports career high school that would groom future Jerry Maguires and Jerry Reinsdorfs are among 44 ideas for new Renaissance 2010 schools unveiled Tuesday.
 
Though an all-boys public school hasn't existed in Chicago for about 30 years, that was one of the most popular models proposed in "concept papers'' seeking $3,500 Renaissance 2010 grants.
 
CPS has been encouraging ideas for such schools to complement the system's existing all-girls charter high school.
 
Grant writers can use the money to visit out-of-town schools, hire consultants or pay teachers as they fine-tune their bids to become one of the 100 new schools Mayor Daley wants to create by 2010.
 
One coed model would groom future sports club owners, agents, journalists, trainers and physical therapists. The
Sports Career College Preparatory Academy inside Englewood High would focus on sports management, sports communication and allied health, said Janice Wells, education-to-careers coordinator at Manley High.
"This school is not just for the athlete. It's for any kid who's interested in the business or culture of sports,'' Wells said.
 
Meditation twice a day
 
The six all-boys school proposals included one from Tim King, former president of Hales Franciscan High. Kids at King's Urban Prep Charter High would take four years each of literature, writing and test prep. The school would focus on preparing kids for college and building their language skills -- an area where many boys fall behind girls.
 
Jimmy Tilman, a
Westinghouse Career Academy music teacher, wants to create an all-boys high school that would teach at-risk kids how to grow and manufacture produce. Tilman also would like to be located in Englewood High, where nearby vacant lots could house a greenhouse.
 
At The Farm School, Tilman said, students and teachers would meditate twice a day.
 
Transcendental Meditation, he said, "relieves stress. It makes it easier to concentrate on your subject matter when your mind is clear of static.''
 
Strict study times
 
Romona Smith Battle also is interested in an all-boys school -- but a residential one, for sixth-, seventh- and eighth-graders who are wards of the state. The school and its boarding site would be in buildings owned by the First Baptist Congregational Church, 1613
W. Washington, where Battle is a member.
 
The residential school would have strict study times and bed times, and offer individual and group counseling.

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Glenbard may offer installment plan for books
Deborah Kadin,
Chicago Tribune
 
The costliest item for students may be a little more affordable as Glenbard High School District 87 is deciding whether to implement a system to allow textbooks to be paid for in installment plans.
 
If agreed upon, the system would be in place before next month's registration.
 
The suggestion was just one presented to the school board this week by one of three subcommittees created to recommend ways for the cash-strapped district to break down financial barriers that keep students from participating in school.
 
The district, which already allows registration/activity and course fees to be paid off over the year, will decide Aug. 8 how the same method can be applied to books.
 
Also Monday, through a fundraising subcommittee suggestion, the school board will approve how students can apply for financial assistance.
 
"This was what the school board was looking for," said Judy Kuhlman, who heads the committee that drafted the process. "We're all working in the same direction."
 
Kuhlman's panel will work with groups in all four Glenbard schools and a non-profit foundation supporting educational efforts in Glenbard and all its elementary feeder districts.
 
That panel also will figure out how to add to $4,700 in assistance funds guaranteed by United4Glenbard, a community group organized to support District 87's two failed tax hike attempts.
 
District officials on Monday decided against: renting, instead of buying, textbooks; capping fees for parents with multiple children; and signing up sponsors for tournaments, at least until the financial impact and policy implications could be examined.
 
Also under review is a recommendation to allow students to pay off fees by doing community service. This recommendation came from the subcommittee that examined what might bar a student from participating in school.
 
"Something will be done because it needs to be done," said Diane Halvorsen, who chaired that panel. "I'm comfortable things will work out."
 
That panel also suggested that pride or embarrassment, lack of information and language spoken at home may contribute to the barriers preventing children from attending school. That panel suggested ensuring as much privacy as possible when talking with parents about assistance and translating documents into the nearly 50 languages spoken in the district.
 
A panel of parents and staff was created in May to study how to ease the financial burden caused by a $125 activity fee and a $138 athletic fee.

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City preschools get a boost
Chicago Public Schools to pump $11 million from state into private day-care centers
By Tracy Dell'Angela, Tribune staff reporter,
7/15/05

Chicago Public Schools won an extra $11 million from the state to expand preschool programs for disadvantaged children next school year, but the district doesn't plan to create new programs with the money.

Instead, the district said Thursday that it will contract with private day-care centers to improve existing programs that serve at-risk children--offering the centers grants to boost salaries, hire certified teachers, buy supplies and train staff on new educational techniques.

District leaders said the private partnerships amount to a dramatic expansion, because the money will convert thousands of day-care slots into quality preschool slots for far less than it costs to create new classrooms in schools.

"We've got a lot of kids out there who need service, and the tension is always between the quality of service and the number of children we serve," said Barbara Bowman, chief officer of the district's early childhood education programs. "With these [community programs], it is enhanced education, so we're educating more children."

Gov. Rod Blagojevich, who has made preschool expansion a cornerstone of his educational policy, is expected to trumpet his progress at two suburban events Friday. The state has pumped an extra $90 million into early childhood education over the last three years toward the goal of making high-quality preschool available to 25,000 more children statewide.

The governor's top education official said the state is on track to meeting this three-year goal by 2006, in part because
Chicago says it expects to serve 5,100 new children through community programs by the end of 2006.

The state doesn't control how
Chicago spends its preschool money, because the district automatically receives 37 percent of new money pledged by Blagojevich--or about $33 million of the $90 million earmarked since 2003. Other school districts and programs competed for the grant money, and priority was given to programs that are expanding services to new children, said Elliot Regenstein, the governor's director of education reform.

The Chicago Public Schools system is "not obligated to do things the way other districts are, but they understand full well that adding more kids is the purpose of that money," Regenstein said. "But we've always understood that in adding new slots, some of these kids are already receiving services.

"Upgrading the quality of preschool programs is not a bad thing. But it depends on the upgrade ... who is getting it, and what kind of upgrade they are getting."

In the last three years, the district has cut the number of state-paid preschool seats in city schools. In the 2002-03 school year, 14,500 children were enrolled in district prekindergarten classes. That dropped to 12,325 last year and will remain flat in the coming school year, district statistics show.

The district also infuriated scores of parents when it shuttered all 54 of its full-day school-based programs in June--the kind of extended preschool program the district said last year it wanted to beef up. These programs will reopen in the fall at 33 sites, offering two half-day shifts in each classroom.

"We're giving up quality for numbers. The parents were really outraged, and it's hard to blame them," Bowman said. "We're hoping to enroll more 3-year-olds, and we're thinking that two years of a half-time program might be more useful to kids than one year of full time. "

But at the same time, the district has decided to invest in quality over numbers in private centers, Bowen said. The half-day program in schools costs the district about $4,500 per child annually. This past year, the district contracted with 107 private centers to build educational programs that offer similar programs at less cost--a range of $2,000 to $3,500 per eligible child.

At the child-care program offered by the Hull House Association at the Parkway Community House,
500 E. 67th St., the money from the Chicago district has allowed the center to hire a master teacher to plan curriculum and recruit a certified teacher for one classroom.

About 40 children are enrolled at the Hull House site, 29 of whom are considered at risk because of poverty or other developmental problems. That distinction qualifies the center for state preschool money.

"I feel this has improved quality, because initially, this was day care," said master teacher Carol Moffett. "But with the state pre-K, there are goals and objectives that need to be adhered to. There's more structure, and the big emphasis is on early reading skills."

At the
Carole Robertson Center for Learning, the district spends about $1 million annually to improve programs for about 220 preschoolers and 140 infants and toddlers served in two centers in North Lawndale and Little Village.

Chief program officer Jill Bradley said the money is used for teacher training, literacy programs, field trips and child screening. The center also has been able to improve pay to hire certified teachers, who start at $35,000 a year but often leave to work in public schools.
 
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Religious schools in bid for charters
City may be willing, but ACLU is wary
By Ana Beatriz Cholo, Tribune staff reporter,
7/15/05

At the
Mighty God Christian Academy in Chicago's South Deering neighborhood, children are taught about the Bible and religious values.

Now the private school's founder wants to open a charter school in
Chicago next year, which could become one of the city's first public schools backed by a religious entity.

If the school district and the Illinois State Board of Education approve her plan, Rev. Geri Carter says Bible classes won't be part of the daily lesson.

"That's not our motive, that's not our goal--to teach religion," Carter said. "Yes, we are believers but we are not trying to indoctrinate."

Carter is part of a growing group of faith-based organizations interested in delving into the secular realm of public schools. And the practice is perfectly legal--as long as religious instruction is kept out of the classroom, regulators said.

In
Chicago, the burgeoning movement has been spurred by Mayor Richard Daley's Renaissance 2010 initiative to open up 100 new schools in six years. Chicago schools chief Arne Duncan, Daley's devout disciple of giving parents creative options in public education, is wooing successful religious schools to apply.

At least three Chicago-based religious organizations, including Carter's, said they plan to submit formal proposals for new schools by the district's Aug. 19 deadline.

"It's not that difficult to keep the dividing line between church and state,"
Duncan said. "To me, it's fairly simple as long as you are not proselytizing religion. They can teach morals, character."

Many educators say religious organizations can be a valuable asset because they already have a presence in the community.

"The fact that you are a religious person doesn't bar you from public life," said Greg Richmond, the former head of the
Chicago district's New Schools Development Office.

Richmond, now executive director of the National Association of Charter School Authorizers, said it would be beneficial to include religious leaders in conversations about new schools.

"We are seeing more activity in the country along the lines of turning to religious leaders to get involved in starting schools. It's becoming more common. Five or 10 years ago there was not much dialogue across this divide, which I think was unfortunate because those folks have a lot to offer."

But others are wary.

"I think we have real concerns about religious entities becoming involved in public education," said Ed Yohnka, communications director for the Illinois American Civil Liberties Union. "Especially without knowing or being able to tell precisely what kinds of protections--what kinds of guards--will be put in place to make sure public funds are not utilized for religious education."

ACLU keeps watch

The ACLU filed suit in 1998 on behalf of several parents alleging that a
Michigan charter school was teaching creationism, holding prayer services and distributing religious materials. When the school changed its curriculum, the suit was dropped.

Because charter schools are funded by taxpayers, they must meet the same accountability standards as traditional public schools. But they are not bound by restrictions on class size, teacher certification and the school calendar.

Potential operators also must submit a financial plan. While each school receives per-pupil funding from the state and the school district, charters often rely on fundraisers.

In
Illinois, charter schools are given a five-year contract, with annual evaluations. Charters can be revoked at the end of that period based on poor test scores, low graduation rates and other factors.

All charters must be backed by a non-profit organization to oversee its operations.
Illinois education officials suggest potential school operators create an organization that is not religious in nature.

We would have to get assurances that there would be no religion as a part of the curriculum, or woven into the curriculum," said Jo Ann Price, a consultant for the state board who reviews charter applications. "They could be very subtle about it. We just don't want religion to sneak into the school."

The general counsel for the school district says curriculum is carefully examined in proposals for new charter schools, regardless of the organization backing the school.

"We would look at all of the schools in the same way," said Patrick Rocks, who heads the law department for
Chicago schools. He added that having religious instruction in the classroom "runs afoul of the Charter Schools Act," and would be an issue.

Both Carter and her son, who is working on the new school proposal, said they will follow the law.

Doing God's will

"We understand as Christians that there is a separation between church and state, but you don't have to be behind a pulpit to do God's will," said Carter's son, Syanard Carter.

The mother and son team are hoping to open a small school at
Calumet High School in the Auburn Gresham neighborhood called REACH, an acronym for Reviving Excellence through Academics and Comprehensive Harmony. Rev. Carter said she would hire teachers with similar values.

"Basically, this country was founded on Christian principles," Carter said. "Of course I believe in the Lord and the will of God, but we do not impose [our beliefs on others.]"

Andrew Rotherham, the director of education policy for the Progressive Policy Institute, points to a document released in 2000 by former President Bill Clinton that outlined guidelines on how religious organizations could become involved in charter schools.

"I think there is both promise and peril,"
Rotherham said. "It has the potential to push boundaries in the good sense, in terms of bringing additional leverage to bear on a particular social problem, but it also has the potential in a negative sense of crossing important church-state boundaries. What's key is that there is active oversight and monitoring."

The notion that traditional public schools don't wrestle with this issue is misleading, however,
Rotherham said. In some regions of the country, particularly the South, there is a fair amount of religious activity at school, he said.

Cecilia Mowatt knows some will be skeptical of
San Miguel Schools' commitment to offering a non-religious education.

But Mowatt says she wants to educate more children in one of the most underserved areas in the city. The private Christian school, with campuses in the
Austin and Back of the Yards neighborhoods, wants to open a public school in Austin.

San Miguel Schools educators have shown they can turn around problem students and motivate underachievers to excel, she said.

"It's not about the religion, it's about the relationship that we have with our students," said Mowatt, a consultant heading up the design team. "It starts from the foundation of having a low teacher-student ratio, focused and individualized attention and students recognizing that the teachers care about them."

The prestigious
Providence-St. Mel School, a private kindergarten-12th Grade non-denominational Christian school on the West Side, also wants to open up an elementary school at the former Bunche Elementary School in the West Englewood neighborhood.

The college-prep school was closed in 1978 by the Archdiocese of Chicago. But its principal, parents and students fought to keep it open and now it runs independently of the archdiocese.
 
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USF joins high school education program
JT and university: Latest partner in federal grant to help facilities meet goals
By Ted Slowik, Herald News Staff Writer,
7/15/05

JOLIET — The University of St. Francis is joining a program designed to help underachieving Joliet Township High School students improve their skills in mathematics, reading and science.

The university is the high school's latest partner in a five-year, $4.2 million federal grant that aims to help schools meet the goals of the No Child Left Behind Act.

USF's role is to encourage high school students enrolled in a summer program to consider pursuing a higher education.

"The purpose is to expose them to college," said Cindy Wrobbel, executive director of advanced programs and development for USF.

JTHS is about to begin the third year of its 21st Century Community Learning Centers program, which runs 12 weeks each semester and six weeks during the summer. The program offers 100 freshman and sophomores from each campus the opportunity to reach academic expectations at their grade levels.

This summer's program is at capacity and helps introduce incoming freshman to the high school experience.

"A connection to school, especially during the ninth-‚ and 10th-grade years, can be instrumental in helping student achievement and interest," said Melissa Stapleton, program coordinator and English teacher at Joliet West. "The 21st Century program allows for this connection to other students, teachers and community members."

JTHS's other partners are the Rialto Square Theater — which conducts various performing arts programs — and the Lovelace Respiratory Research Institute in Albuquerque, N.M. Scientists and researchers use video conferencing technology to communicate from New Mexico with JTHS students. The grant funds an annual trip to
New Mexico for 10 students who excel in the program.

"Our district gives us the freedom to create a fun and educational program that will motivate students to stay in school and get the extra help they need to earn a JTHS diploma," said Mary Balsie, a math teacher who coordinates the program at Joliet Central.

At USF this summer, JTHS students are receiving introductions to the university's facilities and programs that cover health and nutrition, fitness, admissions, library services, career explorations and student life.

"It is so important for our students to know the vast array of resources here in their own community. Exposure to college life and topics helps students make plans for their future while enriching their current high school experience," Stapleton said.

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Marion teachers file suit against district
BY JOHN D. HOMAN,
Southern Illinoisan, 7/15/05

MARION - Four Marion elementary school teachers who were reassigned last spring by Superintendent Wade Hudgens filed a lawsuit against the school district Thursday in Benton federal court.

Carterville attorney Stacey Aschemann said on behalf of her clients, Becky Belt, Karen Jenkins, Marsha Land and Jennifer Lincoln, that being assigned to teach different grade levels at different schools this coming fall was punishment for their speaking out against attendance centers.

The lawsuit charges the district with violating the First and Fourteenth Amendment rights of the teachers.

"Like all other
U.S. citizens, teachers have the right to free speech," said Aschemann, who belongs to the firm, Schuchat, Cook & Werner.

"Because these teachers believed the administration's proposals would hurt students, they exercised their right to speak out and now the district is retaliating against them."

In addition to the building transfers, two of these veteran teachers also were informed that their teaching assignments would change in the coming school year. Aschemann said this is further evidence the district is attempting to punish the teachers.

"Marsha Land has been an outstanding first-grade teacher for 30 years, but because she spoke out for the kids of
Marion, she is assigned to third grade for next year," Aschemann said.

The lawsuit asks the federal court to force the district to allow the teachers to remain at their

Washington School assignments until the case is resolved. In addition, the suit asks the district be ordered to stop transferring employees for using their free speech rights and that the district be ordered to pay damages and court costs for the teachers.

Lincoln has taught in the district for 14 years; Jenkins 16 years; Belt 23 years and Land 32 years.

Merry Rhoades, legal counsel for the Marion Unit 2 School District, said she will "vigorously defend against the lawsuit" on behalf of the district. Rhoades said she would not comment on any specifics of the suit.

The suit further states that the plaintiffs were outspoken on various matters of public concern, as were teachers Donna Gulley and Michaela Stewart.

Each of these teachers worked at
Washington School during the 2004-2005 school year and for more than a decade before that.

On the last day of the school year, Hudgens is said to have notified Belt, Jenkins, Land, Gulley and Stewart by letter that the district was involuntarily transferring them to another school effective this fall and that Belt, Land and Stewart were being transferred to different grade levels as well.

On information and belief, Aschemann said, at no time in these long-term teachers' employment has the district involuntarily transferred an elementary school-tenured teacher to a different school or grade level unless there was a performance issue or the teacher worked in a Title I program.

At no time up to the present has the district ever cited any performance issues as a justification for making such transfers.

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Lottery was never intended to remedy school financing
Column by Wally Haas, editorial page editor of the Register Star, 7/15/05

One of the most common misperceptions in
Illinois is that the lottery was supposed to fix education financing. Lottery money was intended as a supplement, not a cure-all for school funding.

In fact, it wasn’t until 11 years after the lottery was created that money was earmarked for schools.

Rockford Rep. Zeke Giorgi, whose legislation created the lottery in 1974, wanted the money to go to education from day one, but that’s not what happened. Lottery money, after deducting for prizes and administration costs, was put in the state’s general fund to be used for whatever lawmakers saw fit.

It wasn’t until 1985 that lottery money was specifically designated for education.
Rockford state Sen. Joyce Holmberg was one of the sponsors of a bill that directed all lottery money into the common school fund.

“The sponsors admit the action will be little more than a name change, bringing not a dollar extra for education,” wrote Dennis Camire, chief of the Gannett News Service Springfield bureau, in 1985. “But the lawmakers believe the change will soothe the public spirit.”

Judging by letters to the editor that keep asking where the lottery money is going, it doesn’t appear the public is soothed.

The lottery had sales of $1.72 billion in fiscal year 2004, according to the lottery’s Web site. The kindergarten-through-12th-grade budget for
Illinois schools is $8.3 billion, so even if every penny the lottery brought in went to education, it would only make a dent in the financing picture.

Lottery proceeds made up about 9 percent of the state’s education funding in 2004, up slightly from 8.7 percent in 2003, according to the Web site. Here’s how your lottery dollar was spent: 57 cents of every dollar, $974 million, went to the winners; 33 cents, $570 million, went into the school fund; 7 cents, $115 million, went to retailers and vendors; and the remaining 3 percent, $57 million, covered operating expenses.

Winners, retailers and vendors each got a penny more per dollar in 2004 over 2003, while there was one penny less for the school fund. Administrative costs declined a penny a dollar.

Today, the
Illinois lottery is healthy, being the sixth-largest revenue generator for the state, but that was not always the case.

In 1979 there was talk of eliminating the lottery after revenues slipped three straight years.

“Some people in the media across the state and in the Legislature have suggested that we give up on the lottery, that it’s immoral, it’s wrong, and we ought to turn away from gambling as a source of revenue,” then-Gov. Jim Thompson said in a story by The Associated Press in 1979. “I’m in the middle.”

The Register Star Editorial Board did not think Thompson was “in the middle.”

“It sounds ... like an executive who’s had it with these games of chance — unless, of course, the state of
Illinois comes up big winners when February rolls around,” an editorial on Oct. 2, 1979, said.

Things did turn around in February when the lottery started daily games that the newspaper described as “games that resemble the illegal ‘numbers’ racket.”

The numbers show the individual income tax is the top revenue-producer for the state followed by the corporate income tax, the sales tax, the motor-fuel tax and gaming.

That makes the lottery a relatively minor player in the revenue game, but it’s clear the lottery never was and never will be the answer to how
Illinois finances its schools.

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NATIONAL

School Reform Moves to the Suburbs
Opinion by Michael J. Petrilli,an official with the Department of Education from 2001 to 2005 and a vice president at the Thomas B. Fordham Foundation - a school-reform group, New York Times, 7/11/05
 
DESPITE all the talk about improving inner-city schools, the greatest promise of the No Child Left Behind Act was always in
America's leafy suburbs. Unfortunately, that promise is in danger of being squandered.
 
Because suburban schools are the most likely to post high average test scores that mask large gulfs between students of different races or classes, the law's central premise - that schools be held accountable for the success of all students, be they white, black, Hispanic, low-income or with special needs - should have the greatest impact in them. The law made those achievement gaps transparent and put pressure on every school to focus on the children most in need, even if they represented a small part of the student population.
 
This suburban phenomenon posed a political challenge to President Bush from the very beginning. Affluent parents and homeowners in the suburbs - the Republican base - were not pleased to hear that many of their beloved local schools were "in need of improvement." This unease translated into outrage from Republican legislators around the country, most audibly in
Utah, where the Republican-dominated Legislature passed a bill ordering the state to ignore key sections of the federal law.
 
Perhaps it was inevitable that the administration would have to bend to political reality. Now Secretary of Education Margaret Spellings has offered states a string of exceptions and flexible arrangements that make it less likely that suburban schools will feel the heat of No Child Left Behind's spotlight.
 
What's wrong with giving suburban schools a break? After all, isn't the real crisis in American education in the inner cities? Not so fast. Nationwide, the average African-American 12th-grader reads and does math at the level of the average white eighth-grader - this even though one-third of African-American children and almost half of Hispanic children reside in suburbs, according to the 2000 census. These students, though learning more than their inner-city counterparts, are still performing much worse than their white and Asian peers.
 
No Child Left Behind was perfectly suited for the situation. Its primary mechanisms are sunshine and shame: gathering statistics and alerting the community when a school is not doing right by all of its students.
 
In urban districts, this shaming appears to have had little traction. City leaders are conditioned to hearing that their schools are low performing; poor urban parents have little power to do anything about it; and teachers' unions use their political clout to maintain the dismal status quo.
 
But in the suburbs, bad news about local schools captures the quick attention of politicians (and residents worried about their property values). These districts report to powerful parents who have the money to move to another town or send their children to private schools. Given the right incentives, suburban districts can achieve solid gains.
 
Look at
Montgomery County in Maryland, just outside Washington. It has a rapidly growing population of low-income, minority and immigrant students. Diversity is increasingly the norm. Unfortunately, so is a yawning achievement gap, as was made transparent in the first year under No Child Left Behind, when one in five elementary schools in Montgomery County failed to make "adequate yearly progress."
 
So the district intensified programs in which extra money was given to schools with at-risk students; struggling children were given additional help; good teachers were lured to the areas where they were needed most. The result? This year reading scores were up 7.8 percentage points for African-American fourth-graders and 10.7 percentage points for Hispanics.
 
Or consider
Chapel Hill, N.C., a community accustomed to having the best schools in the state. When state and then federal figures showed a big achievement gap, that spurred the community into action. The district now holds an annual meeting on equity and excellence, and it joined a network of suburban districts dedicated to raising minority achievement. The results are astounding: 80 percent of African-American students were proficient in both reading and math in 2003, as opposed to fewer than half a decade ago.
 
Of course, in a world of limited resources, efforts to help disadvantaged students might mean that affluent students might get less attention or lose their favorite teachers. A renewed focus on reading and math might cut into time for the arts. These trade-offs can become an explosive situation for a school board or a superintendent and some have had their states petitioned
Washington for relief.
 
Unfortunately, Secretary Spellings has given in to their concerns. Exhibit A is Gov. Jeb Bush's
Florida, where a whopping 77 percent of schools last year were deemed lacking under federal criteria. To be fair, Florida's schools are probably no worse than those in other states; the high percentage of low-performing schools reflected Florida's ambitious expectations under No Child Left Behind. Perhaps some tweaking was in order.
 
But
Florida requested that the Education Department not hold its schools accountable for the achievement of subgroups that make up less than 15 percent of a school's population or that include fewer than 100 pupils. Federal officials assented.
 
Now a suburban, predominantly white middle school with 800 students will not be held accountable for the performance of its 90 African-American students, its 80 Hispanic students, or its 70 special-needs students, except as they affect its average scores. In other words, the system will go back to the way it used to be, when these children were basically invisible.
 
Secretary Spellings does not have an enviable job in keeping the bipartisan school-reform coalition together. Perhaps lessening the pressure on affluent suburban schools is an easy win. But at what cost? President Bush has often decried the "soft bigotry of low expectations." He didn't make an exception for the suburbs then, and we shouldn't start now.
 
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Teachers would commit to job in exchange for free rent
Nick
Anderson, The Washington Post
 
WASHINGTON -- Three months ago, a county executive denounced living conditions at 22 rental complexes in suburban Forestville, Md., calling them breeding grounds for homicide, robbery and other crime. He proposed to clean them up or shut them down.
 
This month, public schoolteacher DaShawna Jackson, 28, moved her mattresses, stereo, goldfish and other possessions into a three-bedroom apartment in one of the targeted complexes. She was thrilled. The unit came with wall-to-wall carpeting, a gas range, a frost-free refrigerator, patio, vertical blinds, 1 1/2 bathrooms and a walk-in closet. Steps away are a swimming pool and playground for her 5-year-old daughter.
 
And her rent is zero.
 
Jackson and four other teachers from a nearby school can live free at Forest Creek Apartments as long as they keep their jobs and tutor neighborhood children under an unusual deal that
Prince George's County Executive Jack Johnson cut with the landlord to upgrade the property.
 
Some call the deal unheard of. With annual salaries just over $40,000, the five teachers essentially are receiving an after-tax housing bonus of more than $12,000 a year. Indefinitely.
 
Toss in a $500 moving-expense subsidy, free water and gas service, and a half-mile commute to
Samuel Massie Elementary School and it becomes clear why Jackson is celebrating.
 
"Number one is not having to stress out about rent being paid," said Jackson, who will no longer have to ask her mother for an extra $50 to pay the monthly bills. "It'll help with savings tremendously."
 
In the surging Washington-area real estate market, affordable housing is increasingly scarce for teachers and others on modest salaries. To help, school systems have raised teacher pay, sometimes offering signing bonuses or small housing subsidies. For five years, the Department of Housing and Urban Development has helped nearly 1,000 educators buy government-owned homes at half-price in
Washington, Maryland and Virginia.
 
But free rent for five?
 
"I've never heard of anything quite so dramatic and generous myself," said George Jackson, a spokesman for the American Federation of Teachers.
 
"That is remarkable. That's incredible," Maryland School Superintendent Nancy Grasmick said.
 
"We're pioneers here," said Tony Enrico, vice president of Realty Management Services Inc. of
Bethesda, Md., which is representing the landlord in the deal, Artery Group, also of Bethesda.
 
"You can sit in a room and point fingers at each other, which really gets you nowhere," Enrico said. "Or you can come up with a solution."
 
Massie Elementary Principal A.H. Sharif Salim chose five teachers from 11 who sought the slots, saying he rewarded outstanding young teachers with full certification.
 
Salim said he believes the deal will pay major dividends for his high-poverty school. When he arrived at Massie a year ago, he had heard that some nearby apartments were a no-go zone.
 
Then he found out that two-thirds of his students lived there.
 
Salim hopes the teachers and police will become role models for children who now have few. And the teachers are upbeat about their new home, where the streetscape includes boarded-up corner stores covered with graffiti.
 
Taniesha Goulbourne, 28, a mother of three, said the new apartment will help her save for a down payment after six fruitless months of house-hunting elsewhere. Now her loyalties are with the neighborhood nearest the school where she teaches.
 
"I believe in my community, what can I say? I can see being in the community and helping out," Goulbourne said. "It's a great deal."

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All-laptop high school to open in Vail
By Daniel Scarpinato,
Arizona Daily Star, 7/10/05
 
Textbooks are so last-century.
 
At least, that's what they're saying in Vail, where about 350 students will ditch books for laptops this fall as the Southeast Side district opens the state's first all-wireless, all-laptop public high school.
 
Students still will go to class and teachers still will create lesson plans, but textbooks are making way for electronic and online articles.
 
Next door, in the 60,000-student
Tucson Unified School District, workers are installing 300 Smart Boards in high-school math and English classrooms before school starts this fall.
 
The high-tech whiteboards allow teachers to craft multimedia lessons that go far beyond the limits of their old overhead projectors.
 
Both moves are steps in the right direction, experts say, but not nearly close to where schools should be in 2005.
 
Nearly every aspect of our lives - from buying airline tickets to everyday business activities - has been altered by technology. But national and local education experts say the classroom hasn't advanced along with the rest of the world. They cite a number of reasons: costs, insecurities, ignorance and institutional constraints.
 
Moves such as Vail's are rare, said Mark Schneiderman, director of education policy for the Software and Information Industry Association, which represents corporations that develop classroom software.
 
"The efforts are very sporadic," he said. "A minority of communities are doing a good or very good job, but a large number are just not there on a number of levels."
 
Until now, most efforts have focused on wiring schools for the Internet and buying technology for collecting data on student achievement, he said. In
Arizona, there are 4.3 students per Internet-connected computer, on par with the national average. The ratio is larger when looking at all school computers, even those without online capabilities, with 8.3 students per machine, according the state Department of Education.
 
But educators are looking beyond just ratios. They're looking to alter the classroom for the first time in decades by letting technology drive learning.
 
Hitting a time warp
 
The lack of computer-aided learning frustrates students such as Todd Phillips, a 17-year-old incoming senior at
University High School who has lathered his life in technology.
 
Phillips owns two computers - a desktop and a laptop. He works in the computer section at Best Buy. He downloads music, plays games, instant-messages friends and does his homework on a computer.
 
But when he shows up for school, he said it's like hitting a time warp.
 
"It's almost completely absent of technology other than the desktop computer the teacher has," he said.
 
Administrators know that.
 
TUSD's Lisa Long, head of curriculum and technology integration, has two teenage daughters at home. The classroom hasn't exactly stayed up-to-date with the rest of the world, she admits.
 
"Absolutely, there are gaps between the environment they go to at school and the environment at home," Long said.
 
But Long is working to change things. Along with the 300 Smart Boards being installed this summer, TUSD also is putting response pads in select classrooms. It's similar to the "ask the audience" lifeline on the game show "Who Wants to Be a Millionaire" Teachers ask a question and can gauge the group's understanding based on the answers.
 
The Smart Boards are a huge step, she said. With a few clicks, teachers will be able to fly the class into
Egypt through a digital map and highlight the history of the Valley of the Kings with photos, videos and multimedia timelines.
 
"Our kids deserve this. They are yearning for this," she said.
 
And making the classroom more technological is seen as a way to make education more relevant to students. That's Vail's whole goal at the new
Empire High School, 10701 E. Mary Ann Cleveland Way.
 
"Today, with the AIMS test, it's not the textbook that's the curriculum, it's the state standards," said Calvin Baker, superintendent of
Vail Unified School District. "We're getting teachers away from the habit of marching through a textbook."
 
It's a big investment for the growing district. The laptops run $850 a pop, and the district will hand them to 350 students to keep for an entire year. Eventually, administrators hope enrollment will hit 750.
 
A set of textbooks runs about $500 to $600, Baker said. And because books usually are used for six years, a government textbook might still reference Bill Clinton as president.
 
"We don't really know for sure" how well the plan will work, Baker admitted. "I'm sure there are going to be some adjustments. But we visited other schools using laptops. And at the schools with laptops, students were just more engaged than at non-laptop schools."
 
Bill Gates gives opinion
 
The leap to a new kind of classroom won't happen overnight - if it happens at all, educators and experts say.
 
In February, Bill Gates, chairman and chief software architect of Microsoft Corp., spoke before the National Governors Association, calling the American high school obsolete.
 
"Training the work force of tomorrow with the high schools of today is like trying to teach kids about today's computers on a 50-year-old mainframe," he said. "It's the wrong tool for the times."
 
Gates called for more than just advances in technology. He wants a systematic look at the effectiveness of high schools across the country.
 
Educators say the speech created dialogue, which even trickled down to discussions among local teachers and principals. But making those things happen is another story.
 
"A statement like that leads to some discussion, but the level of changes he's suggesting would take a long time to take effect," said Karen Billings, vice president of the Software and Information Industry Association's education division.
 
But TUSD's Long said administrators have discussed technological advances for years.
 
"Discussions tried to start 10 years ago," she said. "But we needed hardware, then we need to connect to the Internet. That became not an excuse but a reason why we couldn't integrate."
 
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Goodbye, Class. See You in the Fall
By ALAN FINDER,
New York Times, 7/11/05

ARDSLEY, N.Y. - Even though it was his last day of kindergarten, Zachary Gold, a bright, enthusiastic 6-year-old, said he wasn't scared about moving up to the rigors of first grade. Unlike most kindergartners at the
Concord Road Elementary School in this Westchester County village, he already knew who his first-grade teacher would be.

In September, Zachary will come right back to room P8, his 18 classmates from kindergarten and his teacher, Leslie Cohen.

"I feel, like, not scared, because it's going to be the same," Zachary said. "Well, different work, but the same teacher. She's a nice teacher. I love Ms. Cohen."

Having a teacher stay with a class for more than a year - or looping, as it is known - is on the rise, according to many experts. As educational innovations go, it is remarkably simple. So are its benefits, proponents say. Teachers get to know their students, and the students' parents, extremely well. They know each child's strengths and weaknesses, and the children know the teachers' expectations and methods. This familiarity can save a lot of time at the beginning of the school year.

There is little hard data on the frequency or effectiveness of looping, but classes in hundreds, if not thousands of schools across the
United States have adopted it.

"As schools try to improve their standardized test scores, this appears to be catching on," Arthur E. Levine, the president of Teachers College at
Columbia University, said.

It is most common in elementary schools, though some middle schools do it, too. Schools in
Colorado Springs have tried looping, as have those in Attleboro, Mass., and Antioch, Ill. In New York City, hundreds of classes stay together for more than a year, most of them in the lower grades.

"In
New York, it's a lot more prevalent than we think," said Carmen Fariņa, the city's deputy chancellor for teaching and learning. "It's becoming more popular."

The decision on whether a teacher will loop with a class is left to principals, teachers and parents, said Ms. Fariņa, who herself stayed with a class through third and fourth grades four times in her teaching career. "In the city, there are hundreds of classes doing it," she said. "In a lot of schools there are four or five classes looping."

The big payoff from looping appears to be in the fall, when teachers typically take time to assess each child, trying to figure out their skill levels and how each student learns. But when Ms. Cohen and her class return in September, she said, "we can basically pick up where we left off."

"I've always felt the first six to eight weeks of the school year are extremely chaotic for kids," Ms. Cohen said, "and not a whole lot of learning takes place."

Spending two years together as a class also reassures young children, she said. "Both at the end of the year and at the beginning of the year, there is a tremendous amount of anxiety in kids," she said. "And I think the anxiety makes it more difficult for them to learn."

The potential disadvantages of looping are also clear-cut. If parents think a teacher is inadequate, they would surely oppose having their child spend an additional year in his or her class.

Advocates of looping say options need to be built into any program, so that parents and teachers can decide to place a child in a different class if remaining with a teacher would be detrimental.

Research into looping suggests that it can pay substantial dividends. The school district in
East Cleveland, Ohio, experimented with looping from 1993 to 1997. A class in each of four elementary schools stayed with their teachers for three years, generally from kindergarten through second grade. The teachers worked extensively with parents to reinforce lessons in school, and the classes also met for five weeks each summer.

After three years, students in the looped classes scored an average of 25 percentage points higher on standardized tests in reading, language arts and math than other students in the school district, said Frederick M. Hampton, an associate professor of education at Cleveland State University who oversaw the research project.

"Everything about the children's lives is pretty much in constant motion," said Professor Hampton, who described
East Cleveland as poor and predominantly African-American.

"It had occurred to me over a number of years that children, particularly from inner-city areas, need a different model of school, a more family-oriented model, in order to be successful," he said, "something that would allow them to see familiar faces, familiar teachers."

Many educators think middle-class children also benefit from a more prolonged relationship with teachers. Daniel L. Burke, the superintendent of the
Big Foot Union High School District in Walworth, Wis., became an advocate of looping after experiencing it during his first years as a teacher. Dr. Burke taught seventh-grade English in Alsip, Ill., in 1970; at the end of the school year, he and two other young teachers were told they would have the same classes the following year, because of scheduling problems caused by construction.

"Those kids came in the door the first day and they knew me and I knew them," he said. "I knew their parents and they knew me. They knew what my expectations were. It was just wonderful."

Twenty years later, when he was a district superintendent in
Antioch, Ill., Dr. Burke convinced a first-grade teacher to try looping. She liked it and word spread. By the time he left the district in 1999, he said, 85 percent of the elementary school teachers were staying with classes for at least two years.

Given the enthusiasm for looping in pockets of the country, many educators said they were surprised that it is not more popular and that it has not been studied more rigorously. The roots of looping trace back to the one-room rural schoolhouse and to educational innovations in
Europe in the early 20th century.

The
East Cleveland school district stopped looping once Professor Hampton's experiment ended in 1997, in part, he said, because the district was reorganized, with new schools opening and some old ones shutting down.

Professor Hampton said he thought the primary reason more schools have not adopted looping "is because most administrators have this one concept, this one paradigm of the word 'school.' And anything that does not fit into that, they don't bother with."

Some other educators said many teachers might be unwilling to stay with a class for a second year because it would involve learning the curriculum of a new grade.

That was not a problem for Ms. Cohen at the
Concord Road School, because she had previously taught first and second grade, as well as kindergarten. Ms. Cohen said she liked the variety. She first suggested looping to her principal after an outside expert mentioned it in a talk given to Concord Road teachers two years ago, and the principal agreed to allow her to try it with her kindergarten class last year.

Would she loop with a class again? "I'll let you know," she said with a laugh. "Right now I love it. I love the connection I feel with the class. I think both for myself and for the parents, there's been a palpable sense of commitment. I'm really, really excited to start the school year again with them."

So are Zachary and many of his classmates. But not all of the children completely understand the arrangement. "I heard one of them say to another, 'We're going to have her again next time,' " Ms. Cohen said. "And the other child said, 'What about high school?' "
 
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Even more of
Detroit's schools could close as 10,000 kids leave
BY PEGGY WALSH-SARNECKI,
Detroit Free Press Education Writer, 7/12/05

An exodus of about 10,000 students in the coming school year may force Detroit Public Schools to shut the doors on another 20 to 30 schools.

That's in addition to the 32 closed this summer in what education experts have called the largest number of schools ever closed by one district in a single year.

There were 252 before the first round of closings.

Detroit schools had about 140,000 students at the end of last school year, down from more than 180,000 before the state takeover in 1999. Enrollment is predicted to be down to about 100,000 by 2008.

"No administrator in
America likes to close schools," William Coleman, the district's interim chief executive officer, said Monday. "It's the worst thing you can do."

Parents and guardians are already reeling from the first round of closings and say another round will make it even more difficult to keep students in
Detroit public schools.

"They don't realize they are forcing children out of the district by what they are doing," Merrilyn Wilcox said Monday.

The school her grandson would have attended, Rose Elementary, was closed at the end of the 2004-05 school year. So Sherman Franklin, 5, was reassigned to Stephens Elementary, a school Wilcox finds unacceptable, for kindergarten next school year.

"I know a lot of our children are going to end up in charter schools," Wilcox said.

But Coleman, talking Monday at his first meeting with the local news media, wants to handle any future closings a little differently from the way they were handled last year by naming the schools in danger of closing no later than Christmas. He also wants to give parents, teachers and students in those schools specific reasons why the schools could be closed, and tell them what changes could keep them open.

That wasn't the case last year, when many people were surprised to find their child's school would be closed to help offset a $231-million budget shortfall caused primarily by DPS students fleeing for charter schools.

In February, DPS announced 34 schools could close. Two high schools, Chadsey and Communication Arts and Media, will remain open at least for next school year. One elementary school, which district officials have not named, was supposed to close but may get a reprieve.

The district has budgeted $700,000 to cover the cost of the first round of closings. Much of that will go toward maintaining the buildings.

Coleman said some buildings could be leased to community organizations, but no buildings will become charter schools.

Coleman said the district plans to be aggressive about convincing parents to send their children to schools in the district instead of to charter schools.

"I think that for a long time, the district has been pretty passive about the fact that we're losing enrollment," Coleman said. "School districts function as monopolies, and monopolies become moribund."
 
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Phone probe leaves three school custodians out of work
AP,
7/11/05  

SPRINGFIELD, Mass. --Two public school custodians were fired and a third resigned after they were accused of calling an adult telephone chat line while on the job.

City officials said one of the workers spent 231 hours on chat lines in the span of four months, a figure that was disputed by the custodians' union lawyer, John Connor. He said much of the time was recorded when the phone was on hold and custodians were doing their work.

One custodian resigned on June 13, and the two others were fired on June 27 following hearings, the Republican newspaper reported.

School Superintendent Joseph Burke defended the firing of the custodians.

"They were abusing work time," he told The Republican of Springfield. "It's disappointing whenever you have to take that action on an employee. You never want to do it."

Burke said other employees could face disciplinary action, but he believes the action will be less severe than termination.

After reviewing city phone records, Mayor Charles Ryan said last month that at least 40 phones were used to call the Raven chat line. Most of the calls were made from schools.

City officials say their investigation is ongoing.

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Don't Leave 'No Child' Act Behind
US taxpayers demand results from their education money
Christian Science Monitor Commentary, 7/13/05
 
This September, all states must have in place the basic requirements of the No Child Left Behind Act, President Bush's signature education reform law, which was passed with bipartisan support four years ago.
 
Nationwide, students must start to be tested in reading and math annually from grades 3 through 8, and tested once in grades 10 through 12. And by 2014, all students in schools receiving federal funds must pass these standardized tests.
 
Despite being the most far-reaching education reform law in a generation, however, the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB) is stirring a revolt in many states, especially those less dependent on federal education money. Many are calling for reforms or outright changes in the law - and more federal money to accompany them.
 
Several states have launched legal attacks, or are openly defying provisions of the law, which penalizes schools that fail to improve test scores in all racial and demographic groups.
 
It's sad to see that NCLB is running up against resistance to the act's primary goals: to provide all children with a quality education and to close the math and language achievement gaps between rich and poor, black and white, native and nonnative English speaking students.
 
A pro-Bush state leads the fight
 
Leading the protest is
Utah, which gave President Bush his largest margin of victory in the last election. Its GOP-dominated legislature recently objected to the teacher qualification requirements, claiming they set the bar too high to attract qualified candidates, especially in rural areas.
 
Utah also fears that further exposure of a widening achievement gap between white and Hispanic students would make the state look bad. This concern is shared by Mr. Bush's own home state of Texas, which has unilaterally refused to test students with learning disabilities.
 
If
Utah is the first, it is not likely to be the last to authorize local schools to ignore NCLB mandates that conflict with the state's less stringent testing requirements or that end up costing the state more dollars. Four other states are weighing similar legislation.
 
In addition, 15 states are considering bills to withdraw from the NCLB unless more federal funds accompany the mandates. NCLB allows states to opt out but the price is steep: forfeiture of federal Title I money - aid to poor inner-city students - an unrealistic option for states with large urban schools. And any state that does withdraw must face the perception that it's failing to educate its neediest students.
 
What are motives behind protests?
 
Are many largely rural states unwilling to pay the price to hire qualified teachers to educate Hispanic children? Are urban states, dominated by powerful teacher unions, leveraging the law to fatten paychecks first and student achievement second?
 
Pointing out an achievement gap is precisely what the law is designed to do. Identifying a problem pinpoints what needs to be fixed.
 
Fixing
America's public schools is like turning an aircraft carrier around. One doesn't turn it quickly nor easily. It will be difficult to reorient the focus of teachers, schools, districts, and states to achieve the academic benchmarks called for in NCLB. The law recognizes this challenge by giving such a long lead time to comply.
 
Clearly, differences, some sharp, exist among and between the states and then again with the federal government on how to bring about education reform. Greater latitude for different approaches by the states must be allowed. It took three congressional budget cycles in the 1960s and '70s before Title I was on track.
 
NCLB's core must remain
 
The US Department of Education must continue to work closely with states to refine the law's regulations, and to learn from the experiences of states which already have rigorous testing. But the central thrust of NCLB - transparency by gathering statistics on essentially all students school by school through standardized testing in math and reading - must remain.
 
States have long had an option to not take federal education money. Now, American taxpayers are demanding to see results from that money, through NCLB.
 
The best result would be to lift the education levels of all students.

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Utah Snubs “No Child Left Behind
Jasen K Lee, All Headline News
 
Salt Lake City, UT (AHN) – In a move that could cost the state $76 million in federal funding for education, Utah’s GOP Governor Jon Huntsman Jr. signs a bill to defy President Bush’s “No Child Left Behind Act”.
 
In what is an overwhelmingly Republican state, Utah’s stance is considered the toughest against the controversial measure taken by any of the 15 states who have come out in opposition to it.
 
The bill allows state education officials to ignore federal guidelines that conflict with state standards.
 
State legislators are also using the measure to promote their opposition of federally unfunded mandates.
 
Utah lawmaker Tim Bridgewater says, "It empowers decision makers in the state education system, where there is conflict with federal law, to choose to follow the state objective first."
 
Bridgewater says he doubts Utah's stance will actually cost it any money.
 
He says only schools serving low-income students will have to wrestle over state and federal standards, which would target about 33% of schools.
 
The state will follow some standards such as informing parents when schools fail to meet minimum requirements and reporting schools' annual yearly progress toward a goal of having all students excel in reading and math for their grade levels.
 
If schools fall short, parents can send their kids to better performing schools in the same district or demand tutoring for their child.
 
No Child Left Behind compares the grade-level test scores of students to the students in the same grade level from previous years, but Utah prefers monitoring student achievement with U-PASS (Utah Performance Assessment System for Student) that measures achievement as students move from grade to grade.
 
The U.S. Department of Education says
Utah's bill could result in the loss of funding if state educators forego away from federal standards.

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'Senioritis is alive and well,' tests show
BY DARLENE SUPERVILLE, AP, 7/15/05

WASHINGTON -- New national test scores show 9-year-olds doing much better in reading and math than their older counterparts, but also confirm what many high school teachers know firsthand: ''Senioritis'' apparently lives on.

Seventeen-year-olds continued a 30-plus-year trend of flat scores in both subjects, according to the findings of the 2004 National Assessment of Educational Progress released Thursday.

''The problem with senioritis is alive and well,'' said Charles Smith, executive director of the governing board that oversees the exams. ''I think people at the high school level across the nation would report the same thing. The questions is, 'How do you motivate students to do their best?'''

Smaller gaps between races

On a brighter note, along with the good report about the 9-year-olds' performance, there was evidence that achievement gaps between the racial groups had narrowed.

Education officials and advocates attributed the 9-year-olds' progress to an emphasis on elementary schools and getting children reading as early as possible. They said the results also showed more attention must be paid to students in secondary schools.

''We need to go to work,'' said Education Secretary Margaret Spellings, who credited students' progress to the No Child Left Behind law signed by President Bush.

During an appearance Thursday in
Indianapolis, Bush claimed some credit for narrowing the gap in test scores between black and white students. ''These results show that when performance is measured, and schools are held accountable, every child can succeed,'' he said. ''That's what it shows.''

On last year's National Assessment, sometimes known as the nation's report card, 9-year-olds earned their highest scores since the tests were first given in the 1970s.

The exams are given periodically to 9-, 13- and 17-year-olds, most recently in 1999.

On a scale of zero to 500, the 9-year-olds scored 219 in reading 2004, compared with 212 in 1999 and 208 in 1971. In math, they scored 241 last year, 232 in 1999 and 219 in 1973.

Results were mixed for 13-year-olds. They earned their highest math scores ever, but their reading scores were just a few points better than in 1971 and about the same as five years ago.

Seventeen-year-olds' scores remained flat in both subjects.

Among the racial groups, most gaps in reading and math scores had narrowed. Every age group, except for Hispanic 13-year-olds, cut into the achievement gap with whites in comparison with the 1970s.

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Schools financial manager approved
Watson survives attempt to oust her 
By Brian Thevenot, Times-Picayune Staff writer, 7/15/05

After months of politicking and back-room negotiations, the Orleans Parish School Board on Thursday ratified a two-year contract with
New York turnaround firm Alvarez & Marsal to run its business operations, launching the system into a bold public-private experiment.

Also Thursday, the board unanimously approved its current interim schools chief, Ora Watson, to continue as "acting superintendent" despite a last-minute push to replace her. Her appointment came after a bizarre series of split votes and two back-room sessions. The board initially put forth a competing candidate, but failed to muster the required two-thirds vote of five members.
 
Having survived the political coup attempt, Watson will now be working alongside Bill Roberti, the Alvarez executive who will lead the project. He said his team, which has been examining the system's woes since Monday, will jump immediately on ensuring solvency and a smooth start of the new school year.

"The first elephant we're going to eat is, 'do we have enough cash to operate?' " Roberti said in an interview after the long-awaited appointment. "Then we'll have to really support (the administration) in getting school open. They've got 30 days and they're behind the eight ball."

Beyond immediate crises, Roberti urged patience, citing the enormity of the task ahead.

"This thing is terribly broken, and everybody knows that," he said. "People are going to have to have some patience."

The board, yielding to steady pressure from state Superintendent Cecil Picard, approved Alvarez & Marsal's $16.8 million deal by a vote of 5 to 1, with board member Cynthia Cade voting against it. Board member Heidi Daniels left the room just before the vote and returned minutes after.

The contract, with most of its cost to be paid in the first year, buys the system nearly 28 consultants at an average rate of about $280 per hour for two years.

Board President Torin Sanders had previously bitterly criticized the deal, even to the point of refusing to sign a preliminary agreement despite a majority board vote. But on Thursday, he conceded that the system needed such drastic action now.

"It's clear we have systemic and profound issues" with finance and operations, he said. "We hear people come to the mic at every meeting, and rightly so . . . saying the system is broken, that it's messed up. And yet, on the other hand, they say we don't need to do that much to fix it. . . . If it could have been fixed already -- it should have been fixed already."

The Alvarez vote drew comparatively little argument on the board Thursday, but the series of votes that led to Watson's appointment had administrators and observers in the audience shaking their heads in astonishment and frustration. Watson has, in effect, been serving as superintendent since Tony Amato resigned the post April 12, but the board had never officially appointed her. Facing a state deadline to officially name an interim superintendent, some board members this week launched a campaign to replace her.

It appeared the board would do just that when it emerged Thursday from a lengthy closed session and made a motion to appoint a competing candidate, Kelvin Adams, principal of
Abramson High School.

Indeed, board members went out of their way to thank Watson for her service, and Watson, appearing to concede the position, gave an impassioned speech condemning board members' political maneuvering and frankly acknowledging that she felt personally wounded by the board's impending vote of no confidence.

"It'd be a lie to say I'm not disappointed. I am. I'm human. . . . I hope the board gives Mr. Adams the respect this office deserves," she said.

It's unclear whether Watson's words helped turn the vote in her favor, but the board failed to muster the five votes needed to appoint
Adams, voting 4-2 with one abstention, by Sanders. When board member Phyllis Landrieu voted "no" to the appointment of Adams, the apparent swing vote that made the motion fail, it appeared to stun other members.

The board then took up a motion to appoint Watson, which also drew only four votes, with members Jimmy Fahrenholtz, Una Anderson and Lourdes Moran opposed. Heidi Daniels ended up voting for both Adams and Watson, though she has led the charge criticizing most of Watson's work.

Then board then adjourned to another closed meeting, this time inviting Watson to state her case, and emerged about a half-hour later with a unanimous vote to appoint her as interim superintendent.

Neither Watson nor board members gave any clue as to their closed-door conversations except that they'd had "good dialogue," as Sanders put it.

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Manhunt: Schools try to attract more male teachers
AP,
7/13/05

WASHINGTON -- When she interviews teaching candidates, principal Laurel Telfer favors the ones who show they have a heart for children, not just solid instructional skills.

And if the best applicant happens to be a man?

That's such a plus that Telfer says she does a "little happy dance."

Only two of the 35 teachers at her school, Rossmoor Elementary in
Los Alamitos, California, are men.

"If you're looking at what's best for the students, it's important for them to interact with the two sexes," Telfer said. "The way men work with kids, there's a difference in style and approach. I think students really benefit from having that mix, because as they get to middle school, they're going to have a whole variety of classes. Men help bridge that."

As a new academic year approaches, school districts, education groups and universities are exploring ways to get more men into a field long dominated by women. Their goal is to provide more male role models in class and to diversify the labor pool of dedicated teachers.

The proportion of men in teaching today is at its lowest level in 40 years, according to the National Education Association, the country's largest teachers union.

Only 21 percent of teachers in
U.S. public schools are men. In early grades, the gender ratio is even more imbalanced -- just 9 percent of elementary school teachers are men.

"It's not just that it would be nice to have more guys. It goes deeper than that," said Bryan Nelson, founding director of MenTeach, a nonprofit that recruits men into teaching.

Getting more men into classrooms, Nelson said, would help show children that society as a whole places a deep value on education and would add balance to their school life.

His group aims to provide prospective male teachers with mentors, training and stipends. Men often must overcome concerns about their salaries, a perception that teaching isn't masculine, and even public fears that they pose a danger to kids, Nelson said.


So he appeals to their pride: "I tell them, 'Can you imagine what you're doing for these kids? You're a pioneer. You're teaching kids how to read. You're setting up their future."'

In most cases, however, school districts are limited in how they can recruit men because federal anti-discrimination law prevents them from hiring based on gender.

"Your applicant pool is going to be tainted by your recruiting techniques if there's a gender bias," said Lisa Soronen, a staff attorney for the National School Boards Association. "The real way to get teaching to be a more attractive profession is to change the societal norms and structure of the profession. But no individual principal can do that."

Telfer tries, though. She takes steps to make men feel more comfortable, such as asking female teachers to rein in their lunchroom chatter about intimate matters. And she lets male teachers serve on the committees that interest them, she said.

One of Telfer's two male teachers, fifth-grade instructor Stacey De Salvo, got into the field because he enjoys working with children and discovering knowledge along with them. In some years, he's been the only male teacher in his school, which took an adjustment.

"You just feel like things are out of balance when you're the only guy," De Salvo said. "You get a solitary feeling. ... Elementary school is seen as a woman's domain, and when I came in, I felt kind of isolated."

There are signs of change. Teaching has re-emerged as one of the top career picks for teen boys, as it has long been for girls, according to Gallup Tuesday Briefing, the polling firm's news service.

The
Gallup analysis noted that male teachers remain scarce in poor, urban areas where children often have no father at home or male role model.

In
South Carolina, Clemson University leads Call Me MISTER, a partnership of nine two-year and four-year schools that helps young black men become public school teachers. The students get academic and peer support, tuition help and internships.

Some of them didn't have a male teacher once during 12 years in public schools.

"There's just a difference -- whether it's in style, voice intonation, just the presence of having a male in the classroom -- that many boys respond to best," said Roy Jones, the program's director.

So far, 15 men have finished the program and begun teaching in
South Carolina elementary schools. The goal is to get that number to 200, and groups such as the National Education Association are working with Call Me MISTER leaders on possibly expanding the effort.

"It destroys stereotypes," Jones said. "There are young men out there, developing into professionals, who do want to pursue teaching, who do want to work with children. They just needed to find a vehicle."

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