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News Clips

News Clips – July 22 - 29, 2005

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STATE  
Hynes aims to restore merit scholarships / Chicago Sun-Times
School regulations change with the times /
Southern Illinoisan
Illinois Teacher of the Year and students to appear in PBS special / Courier News
New law targets small school district issue / Danville Commercial-News
Probe into teacher pension fund widens /
Chicago Sun-Times
Dunn to stay at education board through election / Chicago Tribune
Experts say tougher standards make better students / Beacon News
Parents hot about hot school buses / Peoria Journal Star
School year is brought to you by ... / Daily Southtown
Dunn gives reasons for staying in post / State Journal-Register
Vacation over for year-round pupils / Chicago Tribune
Web site that targeted schools chief shut down / Rockford Register Star
SD 168 board president quits / Daily Southtown
U-46 plaintiffs may grow to 17,946 / Daily Herald

NATIONAL
Hawaii Department of Education Breaks Provisions of No Child Left Behind Law /
Hawaii Reporter
Tutoring becomes a hot commodity /
Baltimore Sun
Good News in Public Education / Civilrights.org
State-federal collision giving schools whiplash / Palm Beach Post (FL)
One Formula Needed / Winston
Salem Journal (NC)
Rell supports suit by state on NCLB / Connecticut Post
School poisonings rise / New York Daily News
School crime stats hard to decipher / Miami Herald
Soft drink industry weighs restrictions on school sales / Atlanta Journal-Constitution
Former principal charged in thefts / The Detroit News
What’s for Lunch?: The chemistry between academics and food / Montclair Times (NJ)
Hello Justice, Hello Fairness: Teachers Discover Ethics Camp / New York Times
State education chief is latest N.J. cabinet member to resign / Philadelphia Inquirer
Senate revises school plan in effort to save session / Houston Chronicle

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STATE

Hynes aims to restore merit scholarships
Dave Newbart,
Chicago Sun-Times, 7/24/05
 
State comptroller Daniel Hynes criticized the state's decision to slash funding for a merit scholars program and said he will seek to have the scholarships restored in the November veto session.
 
The Sun-Times reported Wednesday that the Legislature failed to fund the $6.3 million Merit Recognition Scholarship Program in the budget signed into law last month.
 
Hynes -- whose office cuts the scholarship checks -- said that was wrong, because the scholarships encouraged "
Illinois' best and brightest'' to stay in the state. The $1,000 scholarships went to students who ranked in the top 5 percent of their high school class or who scored in the top 5 percent on college entrance exams and attended school here.
 
About 6,300 students would have gotten the scholarship, and some were notified by their high schools that they were winners. The Illinois Student Assistance Commission, which oversees the program, sent those students letters July 13 informing them that there would be no scholarships this year.
 
Hynes criticized the commission for proposing that the Legislature ax the program's funding.
 
"It's important to make sure financial aid is given to families in need, but I think it's important to reward academic achievement,'' he said.
 
But commission officials said many of the scholarships went to wealthier families. The growth in such merit scholarships around the country has been criticized by groups who say they come at the expense of poorer students. With tuition increases across the state, the commission pushed to increase awards to those students.
 
"Need-based aid and access is our main priority,'' said Kathy Rooney, deputy executive director of the commission.
 
But Rooney said if Hynes can "find the money, we wouldn't oppose'' restoring the merit program.

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School regulations change with the times
Kristen Cates, The Southern Illinoisan
 
SOUTHERN ILLINOIS - George Hopkins never thought he'd see the day when a rule about cell phones would need to be added to an elementary school's handbook.
 
Elementary school, that is.
 
That's exactly the case at
Frankfort Intermediate School in West Frankfort, where the school board this summer approved an addition to the school's handbook that limits the use of cell phones during the day for the students in grades three through six.
 
Three through six, that is.
 
"We respond to society because we're a microcosm of society," Hopkins, superintendent of
West Frankfort schools, said.
 
West Frankfort administrators are not alone. Most school districts in Southern Illinois are being forced to adjust their policies because of the increasing number of students who own mobile phones. While younger students are starting to show up with cell phones, those in high school continue to be the biggest users.
 
According to Illinois-based Teen Research Unlimited, nearly 50 percent of kids ages 12-19 owned cell phones in 2004 - up more than 20 percent from the year 2000. Analysts with the research firm say teen cell-phone use has increased so rapidly because wireless companies have spent the past few years targeting that particular market.
 
National statistics from 2004 show that about 40 percent of 12 to 15-year-olds have cell phones, while roughly 70 percent of 18 and 19-year-olds have them.
 
The statistics make it necessary for schools to put in place some type of cell phone policy.
 
During his 32 years in education,
Hopkins has noticed that common distractions involving students have changed from sling shots to pocket knives to cell phones and video games. He said there have only been a handful of problems in the past, but to even address cell phones at the grade-school level means the school has to change with the times.
 
While most schools do not search for cell phones, and many do not ban them, if one rings or is seen, it may be confiscated. Most schools are still writing policies about the phones, as the school year nears.
 
Surveys have shown that parents tend to be against the banning of cell phone possession by students in school settings. Parents want to be in touch.
 
But almost all schools " nationally and locally -restrict cell phones during classroom time.
 
As it turns out, cell phone use isn't the only policy issues facing school districts throughout
Southern Illinois.
 
Each year, districts have to add one more rule or regulation to their handbooks " whether it's cell phones or dress code policies.
 
Matt Donkin, assistant principal at
Frankfort High School, said the school found itself defining what a "sleeve" is this year in the handbook, because somehow kids manage to find a loophole in each new dress code regulation.
 
"It's kind of like the old shell game," Donkin said, referring to the game where the ball or shell is hidden under a cup and mixed around. "They figure that loophole so you move it again and again."
 
While 95 percent of the student body dresses or acts appropriately, there are a few that have caused administration to define a sleeve as material that covers "under the arm and over the shoulder."
 
Becky Canty, superintendent of Elverado schools, said she hasn't had any major problems to address this school year in terms of students. Cell phone have already been addressed as well as the dress code. Still, she said, revisions are always being made with every new fashion and every new toy.
 
"There's always something new to put in your handbook," she said. "I can envision it looking like the Oxford Dictionary one day."
 
In some cases, school districts are preparing for new regulations and rules that aren't being brought about in reaction to the students. Instead. It's State of
Illinois that's requiring changes.
 
Canty said the state has issued a new rule that each child entering kindergarten, second grade and fifth grade have to have a dental exam. While she appreciates the need for kids to have clean teeth, the district only learned about this a couple months ago and is now having to act accordingly.
 
"Two months ahead of time we knew and (the state) works out the wrinkles later," she said.
 
The punishment for students not having dental exams " much like a physical " will be withholding the students' report card. But Canty said the state had decided previously that withholding report cards is illegal.
 
"Well, now they're talking about this dental thing, (which would) make us lawbreakers," she said.
 
Elizabeth Lewin, superintendent of
Carbondale elementary schools, has found her staff shopping for defibrillators this summer after the state passed legislation requiring automated external defibrillators in places where students participate in physical activities. The state requires these, she said, but hasn't provided the funding to put them in place. By next year, she'll have to have five installed, at a cost of anywhere from $800 to $5,000. Staff has to be trained, too, and Lewin has to scramble to train more than 120 staff members before school starts.
 
"It's always something different," she said.
 
Anymore she said teachers and administrators are having to go beyond the scope of teaching children the fundamentals.
 
"We do keep our focus," she said. "But these other issues, they do tax us."

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Illinois Teacher of the Year and students to appear in PBS special
By Liza Roche, Courier News Staff Writer,
7/26/05

ELGIN — Just off her official tour as Illinois' Teacher of the Year, Elgin High School science instructor Deb Perryman is not slowing down — not quite yet.

On Monday, she was in
Huntsville, Ala., participating in U.S. Space Camp. And today , the teacher will be back in Elgin, joining some of her former students in a trip to Chicago's Millennium Park for the premier of a new documentary on PBS television in which they are featured.

"It was a blast," said Perryman about her involvement with PBS's upcoming series,
Edens Lost & Found.

"When they called me, I was pretty amazed," she said.

PBS, which will air
Edens in 2006, describes the series on its Web site as telling "the story of inspired individual citizens in cities across the country who are improving their quality of life and public health through the restoration of their urban ecosystems."

The series comes in four separate broadcasts and focuses on four American urban areas:
Chicago, Los Angeles, Philadelphia and Seattle.

In the series, Perryman is featured for her ongoing work at
Elgin High School in which she brings students to nearby Poplar Creek to learn more about the delicate ecosystem of the area's waterways.

Through Perryman's hands-on teaching style, students are encouraged to teach younger children while they learn. More than 6,300 younger people were brought to Poplar Creek in the last year through the teaching program.

Perryman officially ended her duties as Teacher of the Year earlier this month.

In a year that included meeting President George Bush, working on legislation against violent video games, going to space camp and meeting with fellow teachers, Perryman said her tenure as the state's top teachers has been "overwhelming."

This fall, Perryman will be back for daily classes at
Elgin High School and she said she's looking forward to it.

"That's where I plan to stay, until they tell me I can't any longer," she said.
 
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New law targets small school district issue
By Anna Herkamp, Danville Commercial-News,
7/26/05

DANVILLE — The Illinois House of Representatives recently passed an amendment that will help smaller school districts in the area fill specialized teaching positions.

Superintendents from small districts have a hard time recruiting young teachers in the specialized areas of special education, math and science.

To make up for the deficit of qualified personnel, these districts often re-hire retired teachers. But they were only able to work in the fall.

The new bill allows retired teachers to work in either the fall or spring, increasing a district’s ability to put the most qualified teachers in front of the kids.

Chief co-sponsor of HB 741, state Rep. Bill Black, R-Danville, said the problem had become so arduous in recent years that districts were sharing speech pathologists and special education teachers.

“It used to be you could hire an English teacher and they could teach geometry for one year,” he said, adding because of laws and requirements for No Child Left Behind, it isn’t possible to shift teachers between subjects as easily.

“The days of putting a warm body in a classroom are over.”

The new law specifies that only areas where serious teacher deficits exist — such as foreign language, math, science and special education — may be filled with retired teachers.

Area superintendents echo Black’s concerns of finding qualified personnel for all the subjects.

“I know in the course of the last two or three years, we’ve had districts that couldn’t find Spanish teachers, chemistry teachers or physics teachers. As those teaches retire, we are looking and can’t find (qualified replacements),” regional superintendent Mike Metzen said.

Metzen said often teachers who want to teach chemistry, for example, come out of school expecting to teach five or six classes of that subject, but in smaller districts, they end up teaching different subjects.

“It’s very, very hard,” said Bill Mulvaney, superintendent of the
Armstrong Township High School District. “Those teachers can go anywhere they want to districts that pay more. …

“Here, they would have to teach four or five different classes. Those shortages are definitely tougher for us little districts than anywhere else in the state.”

Besides better pay, younger teachers might find rural areas harder to live in because of housing shortages and a lack of things they’re likely to look for, such as an active nightlife scene, Mulvaney said.

Mulvaney said his district employs a retired science teacher part-time. The arrangement helps fill the district’s needs.

“We only utilize one person right now. It gives us an opportunity down the road to fill a shortage and not hire a full-time teacher and not overpay for what we need,” he said.

Jamie Dorsey, superintendent of the
Potomac School District, said special education positions are especially hard to fill.

“Special ed is the only one I’ve had trouble with,” she said. “But we’ve been able to hire local people with those qualifications in those other areas.”

However, if a special ed teacher retires in the next several years, the new law will make it easier for her district during the hiring process. The retired teacher could take over until the district finds a permanent replacement, she said.
 
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Probe into teacher pension fund widens
Chris Fusco, Eric Herman, Dave Mckinney and Carol Marin,
Chicago Sun-Times, 7/27/05
 
The scope of a federal probe into the pension fund for suburban and Downstate teachers widened Tuesday with the revelation that a former outside counsel for the fund resigned his job with his law firm because he is under the feds' microscope.
 
Also publicly linked to the probe for the first time, sources told the Chicago Sun-Times, are a former Democratic nominee for
New York governor who had business before the state Teachers' Retirement System, as well as a real-estate investment firm with which the TRS board invested $85 million.
 
The new information followed a Sun-Times report Tuesday detailing how prosecutors recently subpoenaed records from TRS pertaining to about a half-dozen of its private-equity investments totaling more than $1 billion. One of the investments in question is with HealthPoint Capital, a company that included prominent
Chicago lawyer and Democratic power broker Joseph A. Cari Jr. as a board member and managing partner.
 
Possible kickbacks

Cari's law firm, Ungaretti & Harris, confirmed Monday he is under investigation.
 
The feds, sources familiar with the case said, also have subpoenaed records on former TRS board members Stuart Levine and John Glennon, and are looking into possible kickbacks involving at least one TRS investment. Levine and Glennon currently are under federal indictment in a fraud case unrelated to TRS.
 
TRS Executive Director Jon Bauman said the agency was "fully cooperating" with investigators and that, up to this point, "the fund has not incurred any financial losses" tied to the probe. Bauman would not comment beyond that because "the investigation is under way and we don't want to interfere with it."
 
Democratic connections

Besides touching Cari, the probe has hit another high-profile
Chicago lawyer, Steven L. Loren, even harder. A partner in the firm of Gardner, Carton & Douglas, Loren last week "resigned from the firm because he is the subject of an investigation by the U.S. Attorney's office," the firm said in a memo to its 250 staff.
 
TRS -- which oversees pension funds for 330,000 current and retired teachers and administrators -- severed its 13-year relationship with Loren late last year after accusations that Levine, a close friend of his, had been orchestrating kickback schemes involving hospital and medical-school construction projects. Levine, who also served on the state Health Facilities Planning Board, resigned both his state board positions last year and was indicted on federal fraud charges in May.
 
Glennon was indicted last week for allegedly overseeing a sham marketing contract at the
Chicago Medical School, where Levine was a board member and Loren also did legal work. Loren declined to comment when reached at his Highland Park home. Glennon, of Lake Forest, and Levine, also of Highland Park, have denied wrongdoing.
 
Cari, despite his role as a former Democratic National Committee finance chair, knew Levine through his support of GOP gubernatorial nominee Jim Ryan in 2002. Levine was Ryan's campaign finance chair.
 
At HealthPoint, a
New York firm that helps bankroll orthopedic-device companies, Cari worked closely with former New York state comptroller H. Carl McCall, who won the Democratic gubernatorial nomination in 2002 but lost the general election to George Pataki. McCall, a former HealthPoint vice chairman, appeared with Cari before the TRS board in 2003. Neither is involved with the company now, and there was no indication so far that McCall is a target of the probe.
 
A spokesman for Cari said the Democratic operative remains willing to answer whatever questions federal investigators ask and is eager to resume work at his downtown law practice.
 
"He has been an open book. He looks forward to returning to the practice of law at U & H very shortly," said lawyer Kenneth Jakubowski, a personal friend of Cari's.
 
TRS made two investments with HealthPoint in 2003 totaling $35 million. Besides HealthPoint, the feds are looking into an $85 million investment TRS made with JER Real Estate Partners III of suburban
Washington, D.C., in May 2004, sources said. Both of those investments involved both money TRS collected from educators and proceeds from a $10 billion pension bond sale Gov. Blagojevich spearheaded shortly after taking office.
 
Attempts to reach executives with both HealthPoint and JER were unsuccessful.

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Dunn to stay at education board through election
John O'Connor, Associated Press,
Chicago Tribune, 7/27/05
 
SPRINGFIELD, Ill. - Interim state schools Superintendent Randy Dunn, named last fall as Gov. Rod Blagojevich took more control of Illinois' public schools, will take the post permanently and serve through the 2006 election, officials said Tuesday.
 
The State Board of Education will meet in closed session Wednesday to evaluate Dunn's performance. Blagojevich education adviser Elliott Regenstein told The Associated Press Dunn was prepared to accept the board's invitation to serve until the next gubernatorial inauguration in January 2007.
 
Officials didn't know whether formal action would be taken at Wednesday's meeting.
 
The 47-year-old educator is on leave from Southern Illinois University at
Carbondale, where he is an education professor and chairman of the university's Department of Educational Administration and Higher Education.
 
Dunn wanted to ensure SIU was comfortable with an extended stay in
Springfield and "it's our understanding that that's all been worked out," Regenstein said Tuesday.
 
Dunn was returning from an education conference near
Seattle Tuesday and was unavailable for comment, his spokeswoman said.
 
Regenstein didn't know whether Dunn would get a raise in his $115,000 salary if he accepted the position.
 
Regenstein said Dunn has been central to Blagojevich's reform of the state board, which administers an $8 billion budget of federal and state dollars for
Illinois' 2 million schoolchildren. Dunn helped eliminate a backlog in processing teaching certificates, introduce a simpler school report card for parents and cut red tape, Regenstein said.
 
Dunn was tabbed in September by a board filled mostly with new members who Blagojevich picked after he signed a law giving governors more control over board appointments.
 
State board chairman Jesse Ruiz of
Chicago would not say whether Dunn had agreed to stay, but said it would be difficult to find a replacement who possibly could be ousted by Blagojevich or another governor taking office in 18 months.
 
"Everybody's very pleased and we would be thrilled to have him stay on," Ruiz said. "The fact of the matter is that having some consistency is a good thing for the school system and a good thing for the Illinois State Board of Education.

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Experts say tougher standards make better students
Larry Avila, Aurora Beacon News, 7/27/05
 
Representatives from some of the
Chicago area's community colleges and public universities say if employers want a better work force in the future, higher education standards and procedures are needed from kindergarten through high school.
 
"Money alone will not lead us to a level of excellence," Stuart Fagan, president of Governors State University in University Park, said Tuesday night at the first of three public meetings of the Illinois Education Task Force.
 
Northern Illinois University hosted the committee, appointed by Gov. Rod Blagojevich, at its Naperville campus and expected to receive comments from at least a dozen of the estimated 60 attendees.
 
Gery Chico, former president of Chicago Public Schools and chairman of the task force, said another public meeting will be scheduled in
Chicago in August, as well as one downstate in September. All the information gathered will be compiled into a report and presented to the governor and the state Board of Education.
 
Fagan said improvements to the system must begin with public schools.
 
"Elementary schools need to send students to middle school who can perform at that level, and middle schools need to send students to high school who can perform at that level," he said. "Kids without the requisite knowledge who are being passed makes it harder for them to advance."
 
Christine Sobek, president of
Waubonsee Community College said her college has partnered successfully with neighboring school districts to implement programs to better prepare students for college.
 
"More than 250 students earned over 1,000 semester hours of college credit through these partnership programs that take place in their high school classrooms," Sobek said.
 
She said the program was funded through the state's P-16 program and that the state should consider funneling more money into it and encourage its use.
 
Rick Stephens, senior vice president for internal services at Chicago-based Boeing, suggests additional emphasis be placed on helping students become better problem solvers.
"There are large chasms between elementary and middle school and between high school and college," he said. "I think there is enough money for education but we have to make better use of it."
 
Add your two cents

The Illinois Education Task Force is accepting public input Information should be directed to Mark Kolaz, assistant superintendent for operations, Illinois State Board of Education, 100 N.
First St., Springfield, IL 62777; or to mkolaz@isbe.net.

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Parents hot about hot school buses
Petition circulating seeking relief from heat; Hot school buses raise concerns
Clare Jellick,
Peoria Journal Star, 7/27/05
 
PEORIA - When Hannah Brown's 5-year-old daughter walked off the school bus last week limp and drenched in sweat, it was the last straw.
 
Ever since, the mom has been driving her daughter and nephew to their school,
Valeska Hinton Early Childhood Education Center. She believes District 150 kids shouldn't be exposed to extreme heat on buses without air conditioning, and about 200 people have taken her side.
 
"This heat is a killer. My biggest concern is these kids are coming off the bus dripping wet," the East Bluff mother said Monday.
 
Brown has started a petition that has been signed by more than 200 people in just five days. The petition asks the district to provide "air conditioned buses or other relief" during extreme heat. It has been signed by parents, community members and even district bus drivers. The mom-turned-activist plans to present the petition at the Aug. 1 School Board meeting.
 
Brown's daughter, Deloris Brown-Munoz, is clear on her stance.
 
"I don't want to get on the bus. It's too hot," the kindergartner said.
 
None of the district's regular buses have air conditioning, but it's required for some special education students. Those students ride in smaller vehicles.
 
Associate Superintendent Cindy Fischer said air conditioning isn't really feasible, considering the district's finances. But she did say the administration would look into other solutions.  She said one remedy could be to create "heat days" that would follow the same concept as snow days.
 
"With our limited resources, we have (other) priorities we're focusing on, but at the same time, the health and safety of our kids is always the focus," she said.
 
Temperatures reached triple digits Sunday and Monday but the recent heat wave already has begun to subside. Valeska Hinton is the only school open now, but summer school was held districtwide from mid-June to mid-July. The first day of school is Aug. 24.
 
As the temperature climbed into the 90s late last week, Valeska Hinton began sending students home with bottles of water. Principal Beth Bussan said it helps make the bus ride more bearable.
 
"As we started to see the temperature rise, we started brainstorming," she said.
 
District transportation director Mike Sullivan said buses generally aren't equipped with air conditioning. Heat is instead warded off with features like white roofs and fans. Other local districts, like Dunlap District 323, East Peoria District 86 and Eureka District 140, also transport students without air conditioning.
 
Sullivan said outfitting a bus with air conditioning costs about $10,000. That means it would cost about $1.4 million to cool all the district's 141 conventional buses.
 
Brown understands the district doesn't have the money to outfit all the buses right away. But in the meantime, school should close when temperatures become dangerous.
 
"Shut the school down, and wait until the weather subsides," she said.
 
Bus driver Theresa Hart signed the petition and even helped circulate it. She said she won't do summer routes because of the oven-like heat.
 
She said fans on the buses don't help. And even when the windows are open, her bus is much hotter than it is outside.
 
"You just roast in the buses," she said. "To me, it seems like a 20-degree difference. When I get off that bus, it's almost like coming out of the heat and going into the air conditioning."
 
Hart's foster child goes to Valeska Hinton and rides the bus. The 4-year-old also has been getting off the bus lately drenched in sweat.
 
"I don't think it's right these kids are suffering like that. It's too hard on them," Hart said.

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School year is brought to you by ...
Daniel Duggan, Daily Southtown, 7/27/05
 
When parents register their teens at
Oak Lawn Community High School next month they'll walk past the after-school activities table, the registration table and, maybe, the Best Buy table.

Businesses that make a donation to District 229's Spartan Education Foundation will get to set up tables in the school hallway during registration.
 
The "Back to School Business Week" will bring more donations than the golf outings held by most organizations, foundation chairwoman Laura Shallow said.
 
"Rather than just put our hand out and ask businesses to help, we're trying to give them something in return," Shallow said. "And parents get a chance to have a captive group of businesses in one place to save them the time of going from store to store."
 
The idea is recognized as unique, but also criticized for pushing commercialism on parents.
 
Best Buy, OfficeMax and Office Depot are among the large retailers interested in the program, Shallow said.
 
Local banks participating will either make a donation to the foundation or offer a donation for every new account opened, Shallow said.
 
Area car dealers are expected to take part in the program as well, she said.
 
Some businesses, such as restaurants, will offer coupons or deals to customers in addition to the donations.
 
"You might have a pizza place offering coupons for a certain night," Shallow said. "There aren't really any rules, the businesses are told to promote themselves in a way to get the most out of this."
 
Shallow said 10 businesses have confirmed, which is short of her goal of 25.
 
Jerry Glaub, deputy executive director with the Illinois Association of School Boards said schools have to get increasingly creative to raise money.
 
"There's a lot of commercialism sweeping through schools, they're selling signs and scoreboard names to raise money," he said. "But I haven't heard of something like this."
 
Shallow said she has not found any other foundations doing a similar program.
 
Oak Lawn Chamber of Commerce president Jack Baker said the business week will be a good opportunity for local businesses.
 
"Our goal is to bring more awareness for small businesses," he said. "This is a great way to get some of the local businesses in front of the public."
 
Shallow said parents will be notified in advance that the businesses will be at the school.
 
"Parents will know this isn't being done just to help the businesses," she said. "We're raising money to help the school by giving mini-grants and scholarships."
 
But Gary Ruskin, executive director of the Portland-based Commercial Alert, said the plan is part of the ongoing encroachment of commercialism into everyday life.
 
"Schools exist to teach kids to read and write and add and think," Ruskin said. "Something like this corrupts the integrity of public education, making schools another huckster for lemon automobiles and thousand-dollar stereos."

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Dunn gives reasons for staying in post
Progress being made; national search not fully pursued
By Adriana Colindres, State Journal-Register State Capitol Bureau,
7/28/05

When Randy Dunn took the job of interim state school superintendent last September, he said he would not assume the post on a permanent basis.

On Wednesday, Dunn, 47, said he changed his mind for two main reasons.

"We're getting some things done and having some success," he said. "Secondly, we were getting to the point where it was going to put the board in a bit of a box in trying to bring someone in through a full-blown search process."

Illinois State Board of Education Chairman Jesse Ruiz said the panel hopes to quickly work out details of Dunn's contract extension through January 2007, then vote on it during an Aug. 11 meeting. Dunn's existing contract pays a salary of $115,000.

Dunn, who is on unpaid leave from Southern Illinois University at
Carbondale, said officials there have been "gracious" about extending his leave so he could continue as state superintendent.

He still intends to return to SIU, where he is chairman of the Department of Educational Administration and Higher Education.

Under a 2004 law that allowed Gov. Rod Blagojevich to revamp the State Board of Education, a state superintendent's tenure must correspond closely to a governor's term. No superintendent's employment contract may exceed four years.

Blagojevich's current four-year term expires in January 2007. Ruiz said a contract with any new superintendent would have to expire at that time.

Dunn was hired by the board about a week after enactment of the law that authorized Blagojevich to immediately appoint seven new people to the nine-member panel. At that time, the governor's office said he would recommend a candidate for the full-time superintendent's job after a nationwide search.

Elliot Regenstein, Blagojevich's director of education reform, said Wednesday that officials did some research into what a national search would involve.

"But it never became a priority because of the good work Randy was doing," he said. "At some point in the spring, I think we realized, 'Hey, listen, we've got the right person in the job right now.'

"So we refocused on talking to the board and talking to Randy and seeing if we could work something out where he could stay on. At this point, we're very optimistic that's going to happen."

Board members met behind closed doors for a couple of hours Wednesday, spending part of the time with Dunn to evaluate his job performance, they said.

Afterward, Ruiz and other board members praised Dunn.

"Superintendent Dunn's performance has been great," Ruiz said. "We're happy with the direction the agency is going under his leadership, and so we want to continue on that path."

Board member Brenda Holmes called Dunn "an excellent superintendent."

Dean Clark, one of the two holdover board members not appointed by Blagojevich, had voted against Dunn's hiring last year, saying he did not have enough time to review Dunn's qualifications.

"I have no problems with Randy,"
Clark said Wednesday. "I think he's done a great job."
 
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Vacation over for year-round pupils
Mundelein kids say they're glad to be back
By Lolly Bowean, Tribune staff reporter,
7/28/05

For 1st grader Tiffany Murray, there's no question that going to school year-round at
Lincoln School in Mundelein has its benefits.

"We get to play more and see our friends more," the 6-year-old said. "I have tons of friends."

"She's all about socializing," Tiffany's mother, Maureen Murray, said. "She's my little social butterfly."

While most students in Lake County are about to begin their last month of summer break, Murray and more than 400 pupils started school at Lincoln on Wednesday. Some were coming off a six-week break, and others attended summer school, with only three weeks of vacation.

Nationwide, year-round schools are slowly gaining acceptance, said Sam Pepper, executive director of the National Association for Year-Round Education. More than 2.3 million students are enrolled at year-round schools.

But after 10 years as a year-round school,
Lincoln is Lake County's only such school.

"People are used to the traditional calendar, and it's hard to change that," said Principal Shawn Walker.

Advocates of year-round schools say children learn more because there is less time off for them to forget the material and school buildings are better utilized.

The traditional school calendar was designed decades ago so children could be at home during the summer to help on the family farm. The country became less agrarian, but the school schedule never changed.

Students at year-round schools attend classes for 180 days, as they do at traditional schools. But at a single-track school like
Lincoln, pupils attend school for nine weeks, then take a three-week break. They also get a six-week summer break.

Critics of year-round schools say it's a scheduling hassle, sometimes leaving children on vacation when there are no programs outside school available to serve them.

"The fact is, you are changing a custom that has been around a long time," Pepper said. "Anytime you have change, there are going to be a lot of objections."

Last year,
Waukegan School District 60 proposed adding year-round schools to relieve overcrowding. But the school board vetoed the idea when some parents objected, said Janet Ring, associate superintendent for program development. Some board members worried that students wouldn't have anything to do during their breaks, she said.

On the first day back at
Lincoln, pupils hugged their parents, grabbed their new school supplies and hurried off to class. Many were ready for summer to end, they said.

"I can learn more and study longer," said Noemi Hernandez, a 4th grader. "I don't forget everything."

"They get a better education," Raul Roberto said while his shy 8-year-old son stood close by him. "He spends less time out doing whatever."

After a three-week break, Tiffany Murray was so excited to start 1st grade that she popped out of bed at
4 a.m. Wednesday and started packing her black bookbag with folders and paper, she said.

"I miss school," she said. "It's really fun. I'm really good at math."

But for Tiffany's mom, year-round school means Tiffany has less time reviewing old material and a chance to learn more.

"They don't get that long break where they can forget everything," she said. "I told her she could switch to a regular school if she wanted to stay home longer. She said she likes it."
 
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Web site that targeted schools chief shut down
An official says a
Rockford teacher created the site
By Isaac Guerrero,
Rockford Register Star, 7/28/05

ROCKFORD -- A Web site that called for the firing of Rockford School District Superintendent Dennis Thompson and urged parents to boycott the district was created by a district teacher.

After complaints from the district, www.firedennisthompson.com was taken down Monday night, the same day the site started getting local attention. School Board attorney Stephen Katz informed the company that manages the site, Utah-based Hosting Solutions Inc., that it was laden with potentially libelous accusations about Thompson and School Board members.

The author of the Web site was Mark Thompson, according to a letter written by the School Board's legal counsel to Hosting. Matt Peterson, tech support employee from the company, confirmed to the Rockford Register Star that Thompson created the site.

The Web site depicted a distorted picture of School Board President Nancy Kalchbrenner and made "untrue, inflammatory and defamatory allegations that Dr. (Dennis) Thompson is terrorist, racist," and broke the law, according to the letter written by Hinshaw & Culbertson attorney Richard Porter. The site also urged parents to boycott the district by keeping their children home from school.

"This site was nasty," Kalchbrenner said. "If you're not happy with decisions the district has made, that's one thing. But there are civil ways to voice your opinion. This Web site was totally inappropriate."

Mark Thompson did not return phone calls to the Rockford Register Star. A former assistant principal at
Kennedy Middle School, Thompson transferred to a teaching position at Rockford Environmental Science Academy in March 2004.

He lost an April 5 election to Nancy Kalchbrenner for the School Board's subdistrict D seat. During the campaign, he had a Web site that contained personal criticisms of Kalchbrenner, which she called "reprehensible."

Katz would not say if the district would seek any disciplinary action against Thompson, citing legal confidentiality about personnel matters.

Thompson would be entitled to union representation at a disciplinary hearing if the district takes any action against him, said Tom Morgan, a spokesman for the
Rockford teachers union.

"I think most people would agree it was a totally offensive site," Katz said.

Hosting Solutions Inc. doesn't check each of its 900,000 Web sites for content. However, the company reserves the right to dismantle any of its customers' sites that are discovered to contain offensive material, according to disclaimers on the company's Web site.
 
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SD 168 board president quits
Move anticipated in wake of charges filed this week
By Kati Phillips, Daily Southtown Staff writer, 7/29/05

The school board president of Community Consolidated School District 168 — brought up on criminal charges this week — resigned Thursday.

Louise Morales, charged with theft, misapplication of funds and official misconduct in a scandal involving
Sauk Village school finances, vacated her post after about 25 years on the board and eight at its helm.

Her attorney, Kenneth Goff, said she also resigned from the SPEED special-education cooperative board, which she also ran.

The resignations were faxed and mailed to the organizations. They were submitted of her own accord.

"No one told her to resign, no one pressured her," Goff said.

The resignation letters purposely did not state a reason for her departure.

"I don't want it to be interpreted one way of the other," Goff said.

The
Cook County state's attorney's office charged Morales on Tuesday with the three felonies for approving $500 checks as graduation gifts to the daughters of Supt. Thomas Ryan.

Prosecutors called her a "puppet" and said she flagrantly disregarded her duty to students and the public.

Goff claims his client was used unwittingly by Ryan in his scheme to skim district money for personal use.

Morales' fellow school board members declined to comment or did not return calls for comment Thursday.

A special meeting has been scheduled for
7 p.m. Monday at the district office.

A executive session is on the agenda for the purposes of personnel and possible litigation.

The selection of a president, chairman or chairwoman or other officer cannot be discussed in a closed meeting, according to the Illinois Open Meetings Act.

Parents and community members applauded the arrest and resignation, even as they expressed concern for the 73-year-old woman with a history of volunteer work at the Salvation Army.

"I think it was necessary, but I feel bad for her," said Dolores Brady, who has a grandchild in the district. "She has always been a strong person. I feel she was manipulated."

Brady's husband, Larry, said more departures should follow.

"I think it's wonderful," he said. "If we can get the superintendent to resign and a few other people, we'd be in good shape."

Morales was the first person to be charged in connection with a grand jury investigation into spending by District 168 leaders, including Ryan and buildings and grounds supervisor Ed Bernacki.

The grand jury convened after a series of Daily Southtown investigative reports.

Prosecutors indicate more arrests "are probable."
 
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U-46 plaintiffs may grow to 17,946
By Tara Malone, Daily Herald Staff Writer,
7/29/05
 
Days after a lawsuit accusing Elgin Area School District U-46 of racial discrimination cleared its first legal hurdle, attorneys prepared for the next challenge — making it a class action case.

Lawyers representing four minority families who filed the lawsuit said Thursday they will ask a federal judge to grant class action status this fall.

The move could broaden the lawsuit to include every Latino and black child enrolled in the state’s second largest school district who, the lawsuit alleges, were similarly wronged by the district’s neighborhood boundary plan unrolled last year.

All 17,946 of them.

Some 45.5 percent of the district’s 39,491 students are black or Latino, U-46 enrollment records from September show.

“Our claims are typical of a huge number of people in
Elgin,” said Carol Rose Ashley of Chicago’s Futterman and Howard law firm that represents the Elgin families.

Attorneys for both groups appeared Thursday in U.S. District Court in
Chicago before federal Judge Robert Gettleman, who this week denied U-46’s request to dismiss the lawsuit.

The complaint alleges U-46 illegally segregates bilingual students from English-speaking children and provides Latino and black children with less academic stability than their white schoolmates.

“My ruling was not on the merits of this case,” Gettleman said in court. “There is a long way to go.”

The next step comes Aug. 9. School district attorneys then will reply to an amended lawsuit filed in May, when a black family joined three Latino families who brought the initial complaint in February.

Next comes an exchange of lists naming key witnesses and documents attorneys from each side plan to consult.

And on Sept. 28, lawyers representing the
Elgin families plan to file a motion seeking class action status.

District attorneys declined to say whether they would fight the request. Both groups next will appear in court Oct. 4.

“We’ll either oppose it or not,” said Michael Hernandez, an attorney with Franczek Sullivan, a
Chicago law firm that represents U-46. “We have no way of knowing until they file the motion and we look at it.”

Cases typically evolve into class action lawsuits if so large a group of people is harmed by a policy that litigating each complaint separately would be inefficient and costly.

Gettleman will determine whether that’s the case in
Elgin.

“Very often it’s in the best interest of defendants and plaintiffs to get everyone under the same umbrella,” Gettleman told attorneys.

It is an umbrella that could span the entire district, potentially affecting 53 schools, nearly 40,000 students and more than 200,000 tax-paying homeowners.

“Granting class action status will make this into a districtwide case,” said Jeffrey Shaman, a
DePaul University law professor and civil rights expert.

“When it’s a class action,” Shaman said, “it involves more potential plaintiffs and so there’s potential for greater damage awards. … The consequences are greater.”
 
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NATIONAL

Hawaii Department of Education Breaks Provisions of No Child Left Behind Law
By Laura Brown, Grassroot Institute of
Hawaii, 7/22/05 

Under the federal No Child Left Behind law, school districts must notify parents before the first day of the following school year if a school did not make adequate yearly progress and is in need of improvement.
Hawaii’s Department of Education plans to break that provision of the law by releasing scores on August 12, weeks after the 2005 school year begins for the majority of Hawaii’s schools.

The law says, "In the case of a school identified for school improvement under this paragraph, the local education agency shall, not later than the first day of the school year following such identification, provide all students enrolled in the school with the option to transfer to another public school served by the local educational agency, which may include a public charter school, that has not been identified for school improvement … ."

NCLB requires that each school district spend 20 percent of its Title 1 funds for public school choice transportation and supplemental educational services (SES). Any remaining funds may be rolled into the DOE’s Title 1 budget only after all students wanting to participate in these choice programs are enrolled.

Hawaii’s DOE also is ignoring the NCLB requirement to report annually the number of, and expenditures for, students and schools that participate in public school choice and supplemental education services and to make those numbers "widely available."

During the 2003-2004 school year, only 157
Hawaii public school students transferred to a higher-performing school while 48,248 students were eligible to transfer under NCLB. Supplemental education services were provided to 2,447 students from 81 schools, even though 4,650 students applied. Consequently, 2,203 students were turned down for services. No accounting of unused Title 1 funds is available to the public.

Hawaii’s 2005 Title 1 allocation is more than $9.5 million, which allows for per pupil expenditures for supplemental services with a maximum of $1,344 on Maui, $1,424 on Kauai, $1,854 on Oahu and $1,707 on the Big Island. The DOE reports a much lower state per pupil cap.

Other obstacles to school choice in
Hawaii include the DOE’s Web site no longer offering a sample letter of notification to parents and an application to choose a higher performing school or apply for SES. Also, the process to apply for school choice transfers is the same as the general exemption process and is restricted to Jan. 1 through March 1, which is months before scores are available.

Parents say if the DOE continues to construct obstacles to school choice for eligible students by withholding information from parents and funding from students, they will seek assistance from the federal government to obtain DOE’s compliance with the law.
 
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Tutoring becomes a hot commodity
No Child Left Behind has opened up a potential $2 billion bonanza for companies aiding students in troubled schools
By Blanca Torres,
Baltimore Sun Staff, 7/24/05

Russ Miller, a tutoring company executive, says he is pretty excited about the business these days. It's not hard to be when he sees a potential $2 billion market up for grabs.

No Child Left Behind, the federal law enacted to improve the quality of public schools, has given private tutoring companies a potentially huge new source of income by requiring some troubled schools to contract with tutors for low-income, low-performing students, using money set aside for poor schools.

Industry revenues from NCLB-mandated services more than doubled this past school year from 2003-2004 and are expected to grow by at least 20 percent this year. At Baltimore-based Educate Inc., one of the largest for-profit tutoring companies, revenue from work with troubled schools jumped 402 percent in 2004 - to $27.6 million from $5.5 million.

"We're pretty excited about that from a business perspective," said Miller, vice president of business development for Huntington Learning Centers Inc., based in Oradell, N.J. "We're pretty well poised to capitalize on [the market], and I say capitalize, but I mean helping kids."

But the anticipated annual market of $2 billion has been only about one-eighth that much, mostly because thousands of students eligible for free tutoring are not signing up, according to Eduventures, a Boston-based education information company.

Mark Jackson, director of kindergarten through 12th grade research at Eduventures, said a high estimate of the number of eligible students receiving services is about 200,000, or 12 percent.

"What's going on in the industry is there are companies who are very eager to enroll students, more eager than students are to enroll in the programs,"
Jackson said. "The challenge is even with the funding available, ... parents have to say, 'Yes, I want my child to take advantage of this opportunity.'"

Tutoring companies see the NCLB market as a way to give low-income students the advantages they've offered for years to middle-class children needing extra help in school or to students from affluent families trying to boost their test scores to get into top colleges or secondary schools.

"This is not a get-rich-quick program," said Steve Pines, executive director of the Education Industry Association, a trade group for education companies. "It's wonderful that high- quality tutoring companies have their services available to kids who normally could never afford it. It's great."

But some educators are critical of the program because tutoring providers, unlike schools and teachers, are not accountable under the law for the students being able to pass standardized tests. The providers say they ensure that most students will at least make some improvement - which they maintain is better than nothing.

No Child Left Behind, enacted in 2002, mandates that nearly all children in public schools reach proficiency in reading and math. The law requires annual testing that determines how much students, individual schools and school districts have improved year over year.

Schools that do not meet standards for two years in a row are placed in the "school improvement" category, which means parents can transfer their kids to a better-performing school or schools must offer free tutoring for students.

Tutoring lists

Parents choose a tutor from lists compiled by the states. Approved tutoring providers can range from schools, to nonprofit groups and faith-based organizations, to small startup businesses and nationwide, for-profit companies such as Catapult Learning, a division of Educate Inc., and Huntington.
Maryland's list of approved tutors includes more than three dozen providers who offer small group, one-on-one or online services.

Companies don't receive a set price for the tutoring services; the federal government provides $900 to $2,500 a year per student, depending on the state and school district, Pines said.

Providers then determine the length and frequency of tutoring sessions based on students' needs and the money available.
Huntington, which normally charges about $40 an hour for retail tutoring, often receives a similar rate for its NCLB services, Miller said.

In the three years since the program started, providers and schools have been figuring out how to set up the services, Pines said. In some parts of the country, parents don't sign up their children for the tutoring programs because tutors are too far away or because kids have other after-school activities.

Maryland has a different problem: The state has funding for only about 12,000 of the 30,500 students who are eligible for tutoring services - and only 6,000 are using it, said Ann Chafin, chief of program improvement for the Maryland State Department of Education. In Baltimore, where a high number of schools fail to meet the No Child Left Behind standards, some children were denied free tutoring because of high demand and not enough supply.

Educate Inc., which also operates Sylvan Learning Centers, started Catapult Learning, its vendor-to-school division, about a decade ago, years before the federal government made such services mandatory, said Jeffrey Cohen, Catapult's chief executive. School districts have used federal money for Catapult programs over the years.

Now, parents of eligible students can choose among a variety of providers selected by each state, which has given tutoring companies access to customers they would have served, Cohen said.

The issue is reaching out to them. Some providers use direct advertising, school promotions, name recognition or word of mouth.

"It's the obligation of the providers as well as the schools to work together," Miller said. "The money's not being spent because we need to communicate better with parents."

Some experts said school districts have not done a good job of promoting programs or increasing parental awareness of the services.

"We're seeing an accelerated growth, but we are causing that because we are aggressive," said Miller.

Chafin said her office has tried to help school districts market the services better, for example, by altering the language of letters sent to parents from phrases like "In pursuant of NCLB regulations ... " to "Good news! Your child qualifies for free tutoring."

"Why would we not try to make this work for our children?" she said. "It's not a punishment. It's an opportunity."

Gloria Maddox signed up two of her grandchildren after hearing about the program at back-to-school night at Rognel Heights Elementary and Middle School in
Baltimore last fall. She remembers educators emphasizing the free part.

"All you had to do was sign up," she said. The money part is important to her. "I've talked to other parents who have to pay, so yes," it makes a difference.

One of her grandchildren, Bria Gordon, 8, has always had trouble in math.

"I felt like I was the only one who didn't know math," said Bria, who will be a fourth-grader next fall. "Every time I would try to sit there and work it out, everybody's hands would fly in the air."

Bria's twice-weekly, 1 1/2 -hour sessions gave her a chance to ask questions and work slowly. She said she started to understand math and her grades got better. "The teachers had the time to help me figure out the math problems," she said.

Under NCLB, school districts are in charge of monitoring how much progress is made by students like Bria.

But there are few, if any, requirements of what the tutoring firms must produce in terms of student achievement. Most tutoring companies tell parents to expect some form of improvement but won't guarantee that a child will achieve a particular score on a standardized test.

Educate, for example, says children can jump one grade level in a particular subject after 36 hours of instruction.
Huntington boasts of being able to help a child improve by two grades after 12 weeks or 40 hours of instruction.

"Our promise is not a guarantee," Miller said. "We promise that they will improve, but how much depends on their skill level when they come in."

That troubles Penelope Earley, professor and director of center for education policy at
George Mason University in Fairfax, Va.

"There's no accountability other than the marketplace," Earley said. "It is quite ironic and quite paradoxical that the accountability standards that are imposed on teachers, on schools and on districts are not imposed on the tutoring firms in the same manner."

Chafin, of the Maryland State Department of Education, said educators don't expect tutors to usurp their role in educating students or that tutors alone can do the job.

"We should be giving [children who are behind] more than what they are getting in their regular classroom to make up for the deficit," she said. "The challenge is to keep track of assessments."

Tutoring providers assess pupils when they sign up, and periodically to track their progress. Those assessments are often based on the providers' materials or curriculum - not the school district's. Some students might show improvement, but still not be able to reach the proficient level on state tests.

"I don't think the expectations are that we are going to take a whole school and bring them up to standards in 10 to 12 weeks," Miller said. "We're not magicians, we're educators." He said many students are behind and continue to fall behind, so just stopping a child from regressing is progress.

Many school districts do not have the resources to properly monitor tutoring services, said Jack Jennings of the Center on Education Policy, a think tank in
Washington.

"With companies seeing all the money they can make, there is a possibility of a great deal of abuse," he said.

Some abuses

Some abuses have occurred in places like
Las Vegas, where students were registered for services by more than one provider, but only received services from one, according to a report by the policy center. Another example from the report showed that parents who selected online services were forced to pay for hidden costs such as a computer or Internet access.

While acknowledging some abuses, for-profit providers say they have to keep consumers - in this case school districts, parents and students - happy as any other business must.

"We're directly accountable to the schools and from a fiduciary standpoint, also to our shareholders," Cohen said. "The way we grow our business is by providing good educational services. It's a mission of scale. The idea is to reach as many students and school districts as we can."

The idea of No Child Left Behind is to bring every student and school up to a level where, presumably, the need for tutoring would disappear.

Cohen said that will probably not happen, making Catapult's business model sustainable for decades to come. "Unfortunately, we face a situation today where there are so many schools in distress and students in need," he said. "I don't foresee that need going away."
 
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Good News in Public Education
Opinion by William L. Taylor, Civilrights.org,
7/25/05

William L. Taylor is chair of the Citizens' Commission on Civil Rights and vice chair of the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights.

Good news for public education and children of color arrived last week from the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP). NAEP reports are eagerly awaited in the education community because the organization is highly regarded and viewed by many as "the gold standard," providing an objective yardstick to measure progress in learning across the country.

On July 14, NAEP released a report on the sample of some 28,000 students who were assessed in 2004.

The best news concerned 9-year old African American students in the third grade. They reached an all-time high in their scores on reading and mathematics tests. The gains narrowed the achievement gap between African American and white 9-year old students to an all-time low.

To put the progress in perspective, it is useful to know that in 1971, the median score for African Americans was 170; in 2004 it was 200. In 1981, when the first major NAEP report was issued, the score for African American 9-year olds was 189. This represented major progress over a ten-year period and, since the improvement for whites was relatively negligible, resulted in a significant narrowing of the racial gap.

Interestingly, in the 1970s, the greatest of these gains were made by 9-year old black students in the Southeast region of the country. While NAEP itself offered no analysis of the reasons for the progress, many observers (including this author) noted that, beginning in 1971, court-ordered desegregation took place throughout the region. That factor, along with the establishment of the Head Start program and enactment in 1965 of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA), undoubtedly contributed to the gains that these African American students were making.

Then, in the late 1980s, progress stopped and the nation began a period of stagnation that lasted through most of the 90s. But from 1999 to 2004, there was another growth spurt, with a 14-point improvement in reading for African American students and a 13-point gain in math. Similarly, Hispanic 9-year olds gained 12 points in reading and 17 points in math.

Predictably, the Bush administration was quick to credit the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB) for much of the progress. There may be more than a grain of truth to the administration's claim. But Darvin Winnick, chairman of the National Assessment Governing Board, which supervises the test, noted that many of the reform efforts were initiated by states during the
Clinton administration. He might have added that Clinton's Improving America's Schools Act was enacted in 1994 and put in place many of the school improvement and accountability provisions of NCLB.

NCLB strengthened the
Clinton program in two significant ways: first, it required schools for the first time to show progress for low-income and minority students, and second, its enactment was accompanied by the largest increases in federal education funding in the 40-year history of the ESEA.

The news for 13 year-old African Americans and Hispanics was positive but not as dramatic as for 9 year-olds. At the high school level, NAEP reports, "reading and math scores have remained relatively flat since the 1970s."

State-by-state scores will be available later this year and should provide material for examining possible links between particular initiatives and results. Certainly there will be calls for reform at the high school level--an issue that has been given very little attention by NCLB and its predecessors.

While supporters of reform should be careful to analyze the data before making positive links to NCLB, the law's vociferous detractors have been given something to think about too. FairTest replied to the NAEP report by lashing out at some high school exit exams as reflecting "test pollution," but stopped short of attacking the NAEP assessment. (NAEP is sometimes criticized by others as having low scores because it is not a high-stakes assessment). Other groups critical of NCLB have been conspicuous by their silence.

It may be time for all of us to celebrate this genuinely good news, take a deep breath, and see what we can learn that will inform future efforts. 
 
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State-federal collision giving schools whiplash
Palm Beach Post Editorial,
7/26/05

State and federal governments are telling school districts to improve reading scores. But when it comes to grading, they're not on the same page.

Last week, for example,
Palm Beach County school officials learned that the district faces penalties — including potential takeover by private operators — if it again flunks under the federal No Child Left Behind Act. The district has failed to make "adequate yearly progress" — the NCLB standard — three years in a row.
 
Horrible, right? But then Gov. Bush and state Education Commissioner John Winn announced that
Palm Beach County was one of 15 districts statewide to earn an A during the 2004-05 school year. Fantastic, right?

There are other odd examples.
Martin County also earned an A from Tallahassee. In fact, it had the highest grade in the state. But did Martin make adequate yearly progress under NCLB? It did not. Neither did the St. Lucie County School District, which got a C from the state. On the other hand, Broward County was one of only two districts, out of 67, to pass under the federal standard, but it received only a B from the state. The clashing grades seem even stranger because both are based primarily on math and reading scores from the Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test.

How can a district make an A and an F on the same results? NCLB supposedly requires districts to pay more attention to minorities and disadvantaged students who traditionally have done poorly. A district can't pass if even one of those groups is "left behind." But that rule has been manipulated. More individual schools in
Florida passed under NCLB this year because the U.S. Department of Education let the state set lower standards for some groups. Another head-scratching fact, though, is that the state gave A grades to schools in part because of progress among lower-performing students.

Conflicting grades would be just another example of government gobbledygook if it weren't for looming NCLB penalties that could force districts to transport students to new schools, provide tutors, fire teachers or even dissolve the school board. It's impossible to justify that expense and disruption for a district that the state says is doing A work. Shouldn't the feds at least be on the same page as the state before they throw the book at a school district?
 
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One Formula Needed
Winston-Salem Journal Editorial, 7/25/05
 
When it comes to evaluating education programs, nothing is easy - not even calculating something that should be as simple as a graduation rate. The 50 states each seem to have a different formula for measuring the percentage of students who graduate and the percentage who do not. That makes it almost impossible to compare the states to each other and to set meaningful national standards and goals for high school graduation.
 
This confusion is why a seemingly arcane agreement announced July 17 in
Iowa could prove to be so important. Forty-five states, including North Carolina, agreed on a formula that will serve as a standard measure of graduation rates.
 
The graduation rate would appear to be fairly simple to compute. If 100 students enter ninth grade and 85 graduate, then the graduation rate is 85 percent. But life is never that simple.
 
Communities are not static. The 100 children who enter a single ninth-grade class may scatter to the winds before their designated graduation date three years and nine months later. Some may quit school at age 16, others may leave to attend a G.E.D. program or a community college diploma program. Others may transfer to other schools, go into home schooling, need extra time to finish their work or even graduate early.
 
Those variables mean that the states see graduation rates very differently. But that variety of opinion is not sustainable if the nation is to have federal education programs that include strict accountability. The federal No Child Left Behind Act begs the states to establish one formula.
 
There's more benefit to a standardized formula, however, than accountability. The new formula will allow the states to see what anti-dropout programs now work best. That's impossible with so many different ways of viewing graduation rates.
 
For example, if North Carolina uses a formula that is different from Oklahoma, how can North Carolina officials determine whether that state's anti-dropout programs are more effective, and thus worth emulating ? They can't.
 
After years of focusing public education reform on primary grades, many states are turning their focus to the middle and high school grades. The National Governors Association spent the last year on high schools, and Gov. Mike Easley has launched several initiatives aimed at reducing the dropout rate.
 
With one standard formula, there are hopes that the states will be able to find the most workable ideas and borrow them from each other.
 
This story might sound exciting only to education bureaucrats, but it's one that could have major implications for
America's youth.

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Rell supports suit by state on NCLB

Connecticut Post Opinion, 7/27/05

Plaudits to Gov. M. Jodi Rell for putting politics aside and doing what's right for
Connecticut's taxpayers and public school children.

Although she apparently has reservations about such a course of legal action, the governor on Monday signed into law a measure authorizing the state attorney general to sue the federal government over the No Child Left Behind law.

It's an action worth taking on behalf of
Connecticut and its residents.

The law imposes a broad range of unfunded mandates on the state and its public schools. However, the U.S. Department of Education has been totally inflexible on allowing interpretation of the law by
Connecticut officials.

For example,
Connecticut for many years has conducted one of the best student testing programs in the nation. It's a model used by other states. Yet, the federal agency has flatly refused the state's request for a waiver not to expand standardized testing to three more grades next year as required by NCLB.

The result will be extra testing that state education officials argue will yield little benefit to teachers or students.

Atop that, Attorney General Richard Blumenthal, who first raised the possibility of the lawsuit, says the mandates being forced upon the state and its school districts are illegal because they are unfunded. He pegs the cost to
Connecticut taxpayers at $440 million by 2008.

Certainly, there are many pluses to No Child Left Behind in terms of raising awareness of problem school districts and holding districts and their schools accountable.

However, like too many mandates of government, the funding to attack the problems hasn't been appropriated by Congress, which chooses, instead, to shift the costs to state and local taxpayers.

Rell's signing of the legislation, approved in special session last month, is commendable because she's a Republican governor crossing swords with what is considered one of the hallmarks of the Bush White House.

But her action is typical of her independent thinking since taking office more than a year ago and her emphasis on doing what right for the state and its citizens.

Many states have clashed with the U.S. Department of Education on the provisions of No Child Left Behind. Hopefully, some will now join with
Connecticut to move federal officials to a more flexible and enlightened position on implementing the law.
  
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School poisonings rise
BY PAUL H.B. SHIN,
New York Daily News Staff Writer, 7/27/05
 
The number of children poisoned by pesticides at school has jumped in recent years, according to a new study that measured the casualties of haphazard spraying in and around classrooms.

The rate of American children being sickened by pesticides at school jumped 39% in four years, from 5.6 out of every million students in 1998 to 7.8 per million in 2002, researchers said yesterday.

That doesn't count the untold number of children who may not know they were exposed to pesticides at school or don't suspect pesticides caused their sickness, said Dr. Walter Alarcon of the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health.

Using reports from three national toxic surveillance programs, Alarcon's team tracked 2,593 people who got sick after being exposed to insecticides, disinfectants, bug repellents and weed killers at schools.

"Pesticide exposures at schools continue to produce acute illnesses among school employees and students in the
United States, albeit mainly of low severity," said Alarcon, whose findings appear in today's Journal of the American Medical Association.

"We think there's definitely under-reporting," Alarcon told the Daily News. "Some patients will not associate their illnesses with pesticide exposure."

Pesticide poisoning commonly goes undiagnosed or misdiagnosed, because symptoms resemble flu-like illnesses, pink eye or stomach problems, said Dr. Allen Dozor, chief of pediatric pulmonology at
Westchester Medical Center.

"Little kids have very sensitive lungs and even very low levels of chemicals can irritate and inflame their airways," he said.

In the
Northeast U.S., pesticide-related illnesses spiked in 2000, rising from 5.4 cases per million students in 1998 to 10.4 cases. It's unclear if that was due to bug spraying in the wake of the West Nile virus.

There are no federal rules limiting pesticide use in schools. But city public schools only use pesticides as a last resort, Education Department spokeswoman Margie Feinberg said.

If pesticides are going to be used, "schools must provide written notification to all parents, guardians and staff," at least 48 hours before they are used, Feinberg said.
 
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School crime stats hard to decipher
Police reports show more assaults and batteries at Broward high schools, but state figures paint the opposite picture -- showing schools are getting safer.
BY STEVE HARRISON,
Miami Herald, 7/27/05

State records show that Broward high schools are getting safer because of a significant decline in violent acts during the past four years.

On the other hand, the number of violent incidents recorded by outside police agencies at high schools is up almost 50 percent since 2001.

The disparity raises questions about how school crime data are collected and analyzed, and whether the numbers accurately represent life on campus.

Are high schools getting safer or more dangerous -- or is the reality somewhere in between?

''I do think schools aren't as safe as they were five or 10 years ago,'' said veteran teacher John Quillen at
Boyd Anderson High School in Lauderdale Lakes. ``Suspension isn't the stigma it once was. It used to be when security came, a fight would wind down. But now they'll have to physically separate the kids, and that's no easy job.''

Others are less concerned, despite a few high-profile crimes, including one involving a student who repeatedly stabbed a classmate with a screwdriver at
Deerfield Beach High School last year.

Flanagan High School student Adrea Robison, who will be a junior this year, said there are fights at her Pembroke Pines school, but violence isn't an overarching problem.

''The fights are all about really stupid things, and they are all really minor,'' Robison said, while eating lunch at the Pembroke Lakes Mall food court over the summer. ``There are always police there, and you just walk around it.''

VARIED DATA

The Herald compared data from 11 police agencies that patrol traditional Broward high schools with data for similar time periods that was compiled by the state, based on reports from school officials.

The most recent comprehensive ''incident report'' submitted by Broward school officials had numerous flaws, officials have said.

One elementary school, for instance, reported one fight during the 2003-04 school year after having more than 200 the previous year.

Such wide swings in the numbers may have coincided with the arrival of a new principal, who may have had a different standard about what should be reported.

District security officials, who admit that some of the incident reporting is erroneous, have said they will provide additional training on how to report crimes. One change, for instance, is that only administrators -- not office managers or secretaries -- will be allowed to record data.

But the school district's chief investigator does not believe that a jump in police reports of battery and assault means that high schools are less safe.

EVERYTHING'S OK?

''I'm comfortable that everything is OK,'' said Joe Melita, who heads the district's special investigative unit. ``I'm not hearing from principals that all hell is breaking loose.''

Police recorded 302 assaults or batteries at 28 School Board-controlled high schools during the calendar year 2004. That was 79 more than in 2001. That also translates to a per-capita increase each year.

Meanwhile, the state Department of Education, using school district data, says there were 260 ''violent acts'' at the same schools during the 2003-04 school year, down from 363 during the 2000-01 year. That's a 30 percent decline.

Broward and other
Florida districts are required by state law to compile a list of serious incidents, which is used to monitor school safety.

The federal No Child Left Behind Act also says that students can transfer from a chronically unsafe school.

No Broward school has been deemed unsafe.

The Education Department's report is culled from Broward's data. Police data are controlled by officers who patrol school campuses and are not used in school district or state calculations.

Melita, a former principal, is sympathetic toward administrators who are worried about keeping detailed records.

'Principals feel pressure. They are worried: `Are people going to be afraid of my school?' But the superintendent has said you will get into more trouble for not reporting than reporting.''

MORE TRAINING

He will be scheduling workshops with principals to better train them in reporting data.

``We want to become data-driven. These stats used to only be handled by research services. Now we are handling that.''

It's common practice for schools around the country to underreport crime or have inconsistent standards, said William Lassiter of the Raleigh, N.C.-based Center for the Prevention of School Violence. Police statistics can be unreliable because schools may encourage police officers not to make arrests for fear of bad publicity, he said.

''There's no perfect system,'' Lassiter said. ``And law enforcement often has discretion whether or not to determine if something is a crime. Sometimes it's in the best interest of the school and the student not to charge someone. Discretion can be necessary.''

Quillen, the Boyd Anderson teacher, suggests that police reports of violence are higher, in part, due to principals being more willing to push for police intervention.

''That used to be a stigma, but not anymore,'' Quillen said. ``I do think we aren't as safe, but that's one explanation.''

Other incidents could be lumped into a less serious category of fighting.

The number of fights in the past four years has been stable, when compared with the growth in the student population.

MORE SECURITY

In response to growing concerns about school safety locally and nationally, Broward high schools have increased security.

All have at least one armed police officer on campus, and at least five schools have two. Schools that have been plagued by violence, such as
Piper High School in Sunrise, have hired extra security.

At Piper, new principal Anthony Taylor has added 16 security cameras, bringing the number to 32. He also added a security monitor during the most recent school year to what was already the largest security team in Broward.

A Piper student was killed in an off-campus brawl in 2002. Since then, the school has had two high-profile stabbings.

''I can put 100 people in here, but the focus has to be about changing behavior,''
Taylor said. ``I recently visited a high school in Texas with similar demographics, with only one police officer and security person and there were no problems.''

CUTS NOT CONDONED

Schools Superintendent Frank Till said any school that reduces its security budget would have to explain why.

Coconut Creek High School had three assaults and batteries each in 2001 and 2002. There were nine assaults and batteries in 2003 and 19 in 2004. The state says there were four violent crimes against persons in 2001 and 2002, 11 in 2003 and 10 in 2004.

City police officers who work at the school say an increase in reported police activity doesn't mean it is less safe, and say an increase in the number of battery incidents could be an aberration. The officers point to problems such as overcrowding and the difficulty of expelling students that make it harder to ensure school safety.

Though the school district has opened four new high schools so far this decade --
Cypress Bay in Weston, Everglades in Miramar, Coral Glades in Coral Springs and Monarch in Coconut Creek -- it is still struggling to accommodate the growing high school population.

While the Broward elementary school population has stayed steady, the number of students in Broward high schools has increased significantly in the past five years.

A large group of students whose families flocked to Broward after Hurricane Andrew are now in high school.

In the past four years, the high school population has risen 12 percent; the elementary population is up less than 2 percent.

''The more people you confine in a smaller area, you will get conflict,'' observed Coconut Creek school resource officer Mike Zombek.

Though many schools have more security, the School Board has repeatedly said it's impractical to install metal detectors at high schools, where the student population is often more than 3,000 students.

But district officials are changing the layout of elementary and middle schools to ''single-point entry'' schools, and the school district plans to install biometric technology at
Pine Ridge Alternative Center.

That would require students to press their thumb or palm against a scanner to enter, and the technology could be used at other schools.

Such systems are perhaps a decade away from being used in schools. In the meantime, the district has no plans to dramatically boost security.
 
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Soft drink industry weighs restrictions on school sales
By CAROLINE WILBERT, The
Atlanta Journal-Constitution, 7/27/05

With pressure from health advocates mounting, Coca-Cola, Pepsi and the rest of the soft drink industry are considering a voluntary ban on carbonated soft drinks in elementary and middle schools and restrictions on sales in high schools.

Industry leaders are expected to vote on the issue this week during a conference call of the American Beverage Association's board, say several people familiar with the trade group's discussions.

The policy would mark a significant shift in strategy for the industry, which has fought proposed school vending machine restrictions in state legislatures and local school districts.

If the current proposal passes, it would ban soft drinks in elementary and middle schools during the school day and require that at least half the slots in high school vending machines be devoted to healthier drinks, such as water and juice.

Representatives from the
ABA and the beverage companies declined to comment about the specifics of the proposal Monday. Coke spokesman Dan Schafer said the Atlanta-based company "would give serious consideration to any industry proposal."

While the new rules might please some health advocates, others argue that soft drinks should be banned entirely from schools, including high schools. Health advocates have argued that it is irresponsible to sell sugary drinks to children at school, when there is a childhood obesity epidemic.

The practical impact of the rules, if they take effect, would not be huge. The industry already has a general practice of not selling carbonated soft drinks to students in elementary schools, although the new proposal would make it more official and consistent.

And in middle and high schools, soft drink companies already are selling waters, juices and sports drinks alongside sodas because such drinks increasingly are popular with young consumers.

Also, school sales don't represent significant revenue for beverage companies. For Coke, schools make up less than 1 percent of sales in
North America.

However, the change would be important from a symbolic standpoint. The industry wants to show parents that it is taking the obesity issue seriously.

In the past, Coke and other beverage companies have resisted restrictions because schools are a good place to market to young consumers and develop long-term brand loyalty. Also, companies don't want bans that seem to acknowledge that soft drinks are bad for kids or that soft drinks lead to obesity.

The proposal before the
ABA comes nearly one year after Canada's beverage industry instituted a ban on carbonated soft drinks in elementary and middle schools.

The policy doesn't address high schools.

In the
United States, the issue was a hot topic in state legislatures this year, with 38 states considering school nutrition bills, most of which included a vending machine component. At least 14 laws were enacted.

The industry lobbied hard to defeat the bills, or at least to win palatable compromises.

In
Louisiana, for instance, the governor supported a bill that would ban carbonated soft drinks in all schools. Lobbyists representing bottlers of Coke and Pepsi successfully negotiated a compromise that bans soft drinks in elementary and middle schools, and requires that at least half the vending slots in high schools contain healthy drinks.

State legislatures aren't the only battleground. In
New Jersey, the agriculture department enacted regulations banning carbonated soft drink sales in all schools. And some local school districts have restricted sales.

Lawmakers in
Georgia have not taken up the issue.
 
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Former principal charged in thefts
Clinton Twp. school official fired in 2003 is charged with money laundering, embezzling.
By Christina Stolarz, The
Detroit News, 7/26/05
 
CLINTON TOWNSHIP -- A former Cherokee Elementary School principal was charged Monday in connection with the embezzlement and theft of nearly $400,000 worth of money and property from the school.

Richard Zaranek, a principal at Cherokee for 10 years, was charged in U.S. District Court with three counts of embezzlement, money laundering and criminal forfeiture.

While court records did not list what was stolen, Chippewa Valley Schools Superintendent Mark Deldin said Zaranek stole computers, lawn equipment and money from the school between March 1996 and March 2003.

Clinton Township police said they confiscated the property from Zaranek's Grosse Pointe Farms home in 2003.

Zaranek was fired from Cherokee in April 2003, Deldin said. The district conducted an internal investigation and called police after receiving a letter from the Michigan Department of Education about an anonymous tip about missing property.

"We felt we had sufficient evidence," Deldin said of the firing.

Dominick J. Sorise, a
Clinton Township lawyer for Zaranek, did not return calls seeking comment.

Zaranek served as principal of the school for a decade. He also served as an elementary teacher and principal at
Fox Elementary School since he was hired into the district in 1973, Deldin said.

"The Cherokee community has been waiting patiently for charges to be filed. The wheels of justice turn slow," Deldin said.
 
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What’s for Lunch?: The chemistry between academics and food
By Lillian M. Aleman,
Montclair Times, 7/27/05

If a student qualifies for free or reduced-price lunch, then he or she is more likely to score lower on standardized tests than a more economically affluent peer. This is not a dichotomy that is occurring only in certain schools; it’s happening across the nation.

And it’s clearly apparent in
Montclair.

About 20 percent of
Montclair students are eligible for free and reduced-price lunch because the state Department of Agriculture labels them as economically disadvantaged. Family income levels are used to establish eligibility for free and reduced-price meals.

Hillside Elementary, Glenfield and
Mt. Hebron Middle Schools have the most students receiving free and reduced lunches – about 414 students total.

Every one of those schools failed to meet No Child Left Behind (NCLB) requirements last year. In 2002, President George W. Bush signed the NCLB, a law that aims to have all students at the same level on the academic scale. School districts are held accountable for their students’ educational success and could lose state funding if requirements are not met.

There are many factors that could have contributed to each of those schools failing NCLB requirements, but some parents and nutritional experts have said the issue is directly related to food.

“I don’t think that is a coincidence,” said Shahla M. Wunderlich, a
Montclair State University health and nutrition professor. “It’s a direct correlation between student performance and the quality of food they eat. Even if the student eats a lot of food, it might not be that high in quality. The food they eat must provide all the nutrients, proteins and vitamins.

“We are always worried about the quantity of food, but it’s the quality we have to focus on.”

Wunderlich, who has a master’s degree in nutrition and a Ph.D. in nutritional biochemistry and metabolism, has written for publications about the effects of healthy and unhealthy eating.

She said students who are eligible for free or reduced-price lunch also tend to have higher rates of obesity because the food they are eating at home is not nutritional enough.

“The parents of the students have very little nutrition education. They think if they want to give good nutrition to their children, it is going to be expensive. But that’s not true,” Wunderlich said.

For the past two years, advocates in town have been trying to change what is offered in school cafeterias because they believe the meals mimic offerings of fast-food restaurants.

Last year, 93 percent of third-graders in general education classes passed the N.J. Assessment of Skills and Knowledge Test for language arts compared to 52 percent of students who receive free or reduced-price lunch meals.

The
Montclair School District’s Director of Curriculum Terry Trigg-Scales said there are a number of reasons why students who receive free or reduced-price lunch could have scored lower on tests, including the fact that they might not have access to supplementary resources. Trigg-Scales said those families could also lack the funds to provide a number of cultural experiences that their children could benefit from.

Trigg-Scales said, “I can’t say that because they are eligible for free or reduced lunch that the quality of food has some impact. Socioeconomically they qualify, but that’s not making a connection to the quality of food in the schools.”

But she noted that food plays a role in academic achievement. The school district’s Health and Wellness Initiative has been examining the types of food being served in
Montclair school cafeterias.

Many school principals have also taken the step toward healthier eating habits for their students by removing junk food from their respective cafeterias.

Studies show a direct correlation between food and academic success. Even before a major test, schools send letters home to parents recommending that their children eat breakfast on the day of the exam.

“If students eat breakfast, they perform much better than the ones who skip breakfast. There’s no doubt their physical and mental health depends on the nutrients provided to them. If the food they are provided has all the nutrients, they have everything they need to function in school,” Wunderlich said.

A study conducted by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services determined that students who eat breakfast have improved attendance in school and have increased their scores in standardized tests.

For years,
Montclair school officials have taken many routes to raise the test scores of its 6,600 students. From hiring additional math and reading specialists to working alongside a world-renowned educational consultant, the school district has shown a vested interest in elevating the test scores of all its students and tackling the academic gulf that separates African-American students from white and Asian-American students.

Besides pressure from families in town demanding that the district do something to raise test scores, the district faces even bigger demands from President Bush’s NCLB act.

So far, there have been small increases among the test scores of African-American and white students, though African-American students still score lower in tests than their white counterparts. But the biggest academic gap in
Montclair is among students from modest-income homes who receive free or reduced-cost lunch compared to middle- and upper-income students who do not.

Jodi Godfrey, a nutritionist in town who recently completed a health assessment on Montclair’s elementary schools, said she doesn’t know how big of a role lunches served in schools have regarding academic success for public-school students.

“There are a lot of reasons why the students aren’t doing so well in certain tests. But, having the students eat healthier food in school would be one positive way to try to tackle the problem,” Godfrey said. “And maybe one of the most easy ways.”
 
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Hello Justice, Hello Fairness: Teachers Discover Ethics Camp
By Michael Winerip,
New York Times, 7/27/05

Santa Clara, Calif. - What do high school teachers do at science ethics camp?

They watch a lot of obscure educational videos: "The Whole Truth" (Wherein an ambitious scientist who fudges data is confronted by his intrepid research assistant!); "Of Mice and Mendoza" (A researcher for a pharmaceutical firm tragically learns too late that he is prohibited by his company from sharing data with university scientists!); and "The Cutting Edge" (A young woman must decide - to be tested for a genetic disease or not to be tested.)

Ethics campers learn nifty teaching exercises they can take back to their classrooms. One afternoon, counselors split campers into two groups and had them argue a hypothetical case before a bioethics committee also made up of campers. "It was great," said Laurel Valker, a teacher from Pacific Coast High in
Orange County. "I can do an entire week's biology lesson centered on that - and it will meet the state standard on electrophoresis."

They got ethics camp bags and coffee mugs decorated with daily reminders like "Was I fair and just?" and "Did I do more good than harm?"

The campers reviewed the American Chemical Society's code of conduct, ("Chemists should actively be concerned with the health and welfare of co-workers, consumers and the community.") And they took a field trip to the Monterey Bay Aquarium to explore the ethical issues of studying animals in captivity.

And wherever they went, they argued the fine points, sometimes quite heatedly. "Can I please finish what I was saying?" said
Richard Lake, a Monterey County teacher who felt he was getting short shrift from the camp's bioethics committee.

"I think we need a break," said Steve Johnson, the camp's director. "Cookies will probably help to solve this ethical dilemma. We have some nice warm cookies just outside the door."

This is the 10th anniversary of ethics camp here at
Santa Clara University, a Jesuit institution near San Jose. The first year, there was a single, weeklong camp with 15 teachers, and it has grown to nine weeklong ethics camps with more than 350 teachers attending. There are now ethics camps for science teachers, alternative school teachers, special ed teachers, Catholic and public school elementary teachers and high school teachers.

The camps are offered by the university's
Markkula Center for Applied Ethics, opened in 1986 and named for A. C. Markkula, a founder of Apple computers. It's one of a handful of applied ethics centers nationwide; Duke and Dartmouth also have centers. They are not meant to be ivory tower affairs. "We bring ethics to everyday life," Mr. Johnson said.

Margaret McLean, one of 15 on the staff, has doctorates in clinical pathology and ethical studies. She is a consultant at nearby O'Connor Hospital, helping patients' families make hard decisions, like when to terminate life support.

Judy Nadler, the center's government ethics specialist, said, "I was out this morning with the
Santa Clara water district." She has been hired by the district to do management workshops on ethical issues like conflicts of interest.

Mr. Johnson, 50, ("he invented ethics camp," Dr. McLean said) has had a long and varied history in education, working mainly with poor children as an English and science teacher, at elementary and high school levels, in special education and at juvenile detention halls. He was the principal of an urban Los Angeles Catholic high school, and was, for years, a Roman Catholic monk.

He had a strong interest in character-based learning that would mix the teaching of ethical values with high-quality academics, and in the late 1990's, he saw opportunity. Like most states,
California was moving to a standards-based curriculum, and to many educators, the approach seemed highly abstract and technical. Mr. Johnson studied those standards, and created an English literature curriculum that required students to read eight books a year, and he tied every daily lesson plan to a state standard.

There was a value theme for each quarter, like "Responsibility Requires Action," with a subtheme every day ("doing what I should do;" "doing what I say I will do;" "doing what is best for everybody.") In the "responsibility" unit, as they read Shakespeare's Julius Caesar, they analyzed Cassius' and Brutus's actions through those values.

Mr. Johnson developed his literary/ethics curriculum with the troubled kids with whom he'd worked in state detention centers in mind. "They need to learn good values - working hard, learning to get organized, taking responsibility for their actions," he said. "They're the group that causes society the most problems, and they're the most overlooked."

His curriculum was first used at the juvenile detention hall in San Jose in the late 1990's and has spread to nearly 400 public alternative schools - for delinquent and neglected children - in 25 of California's 58 counties. Anne Marinovic, a teacher who attended ethics camp, said the values part works because it is so well integrated into the curriculum. "If you just tried to teach a value like diversity, they'd tune you out," she said. "Because it's part of a novel you're teaching, they see how it relates to the story and then, to them."

Paula Mitchell, director of 13 public alternative schools with 700 students in the
San Jose area, said the number of her students passing the state English test had gone up 20 to 30 percent since adopting the ethics center's curriculum. "We've got away from work sheets and packets to lessons where kids are reading books, real literature taught in a way they can relate to."

Mr. Johnson's next project is developing an earth science curriculum that he expects to make a debut next year. It will prominently feature ethical issues in science. Indeed, that was a reason he started the science ethics camp three years ago, to test his ideas.

The earth science curriculum will be taught through units based on natural disasters - earthquakes, tsunamis, volcanoes. It's an approach Mr. Johnson used with urban special education students and found effective. "Kids love reading about natural disasters," he said.

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State education chief is latest N.J. cabinet member to resign
William L. Librera, who implemented No Child Left Behind under McGreevey, will leave office Sept. 7.
By Melanie Burney and Kristen A. Graham,
Philadelphia Inquirer Staff Writers, 7/29/05

New Jersey's commissioner of education yesterday announced plans to resign in September to take a position at Rutgers University's Graduate School of Education.

William L. Librera, 59, who was appointed by Gov. Jim McGreevey in 2002, said he had never planned to serve more than a single term.

A former district superintendent, principal, and social studies teacher, Librera guided the Education Department's implementation of the demands of the federal No Child Left Behind law, which mandates annual state testing and defines teacher preparation.

During his tenure,
New Jersey also revised curriculum standards for its nearly 600 public schools.

Librera said he regretted not being able to do more to consolidate districts or revamp school funding, which relies heavily on property taxes.

But he said he would leave office with public education in "very good shape. We have built upon the foundations. We have made progress."

Some of that progress has come in
New Jersey's neediest schools, the so-called Abbott districts, for which the state provides the bulk of funding. Librera embraced court mandates to provide for the Abbotts in ways his predecessors had not.

"I think that what we have are more examples of Abbott districts achieving at suburban levels," he said. But he added there was more work to do: "The positive examples are the exception, not the rule."

Education advocates yesterday praised Librera's leadership. Most school officials respected him because of his long career as an educator.

"He could relate to what we were dealing with," Collingswood Superintendent James H. Bathurst said. "We are better in
New Jersey because of his direction and leadership."

Edwina M. Lee, executive director of the New Jersey School Boards Association, issued a statement praising Librera for leading the department "at a challenging time. While we have not agreed with every one of his decisions, we always found him willing to listen to the concerns of local school boards."

Kathryn Coulibaly, a spokeswoman for the New Jersey Education Association, lauded Librera's work with the union on a professional-development initiative. "This is a great achievement for the commissioner, because this program implements a way to quantify and improve the quality of professional development," she said in a statement.

Librera, who was paid $100,000 a year, is one of several cabinet members to announce their departures in recent months, joining the commissioners of labor, health, personnel, banking and insurance, and community affairs.

Librera said that he felt supported by McGreevey and acting Gov. Richard J. Codey, and that his departure had nothing to do with the coming gubernatorial election or the current lame-duck period.

"As gratifying in my life as this has been professionally, there have been some personal costs," said Librera, who is married and has three grown children and two grandchildren. "It's an all-consuming position."

Librera, who will help
Rutgers develop partnerships with New Jersey's public schools, will remain commissioner until Sept. 7. It was not clear who will lead the department afterward.
 
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Senate revises school plan in effort to save session
Success of any bill still rests with the House's willingness to OK a tax proposal
By CLAY ROBISON and JOHN W. GONZALEZ,
Houston Chronicle, 7/28/05
 
AUSTIN - Senate leaders attempted to resurrect the special session on school finance, already dealt a crippling blow by the House, by offering a revised plan Thursday for making major changes in the public schools.

Their effort, however, will depend on the House's ability to find agreement on another tax bill to pay for cuts in local school taxes, an iffy proposition following the House's 124-8 defeat this week of an earlier tax proposal.

Action planned Monday Late Thursday, Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst and Senate Education Chairwoman Florence Shapiro announced that a revised education bill will be heard by the committee Monday.

The measure was rewritten to meet the objections of school superintendents and other educators whom they blamed for thwarting the Legislature's progress.

Their announcement came after the lieutenant governor and senators spent much of the day in a series of private meetings with Dewhurst struggling to salvage the session.

Dewhurst needs a two-thirds vote — 21 votes if every senator is present — to debate an education bill.

And most Democratic senators as well as a handful of Republicans had been holding out against an earlier, proposed education overhaul, partly because of opposition from superintendents.

Dewhurst said the new bill would "better address the concerns of our educational community" and some senators.

He and Shapiro, R-Plano, said superintendents had been helpful in drafting the revised bill, and they invited educators and superintendents to attend the public hearing. Dewhurst said he hoped the full Senate will debate the bill by the end of next week.


Shapiro and other members of a House-Senate conference committee were criticized for negotiating in private a controversial education compromise that died last week, the victim of a Democratic Senate filibuster as the first summer special session ended.

Gov. Rick Perry immediately called lawmakers into a second special session and then urged them to continue working, even after the House had killed its tax and education bills Tuesday.

The Senate can try to restart action on the education and school spending bill. But only the House, under the Texas Constitution, can initiate action on a tax bill. And Dewhurst and Shapiro said the education overhaul would remain linked to the effort to raise state taxes to pay for cuts in school property taxes.

"The Senate wants to see the education reforms tied to the reduction in local school property taxes," Dewhurst said. He noted that the House's defeat of the earlier tax bill remained a concern.

Two provisions removed Shapiro said the new Senate education bill would delete two provisions that had been particularly objectionable to superintendents — a uniform school start date after Labor Day and November elections for school board members.

She said the bill, like previous proposals, would include a teacher pay raise, more oversight of charter schools and increased accountability standards. She said it would include the same amount of new money — almost $3 billion in the next two years — for the public schools but that superintendents would be given more "discretion" in how some of the money was spent.

Before Dewhurst and Shapiro offered a new education bill, there was a question whether Dewhurst had the two-thirds vote necessary to advance a school bill, which he had originally planned to do Thursday.

Dewhurst, after much private arm-twisting, said he had enough votes, but some senators weren't sure. Dewhurst said he feared, however, that senators would have amended the bill to strip out all of the so-called "reforms" in school administration, leaving only a teacher pay raise and additional money for textbooks.

Both chambers adjourned until Monday. The 30-day session can last as long as Aug. 19.
 
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Illinois State Board of Education
100 North First Street
Springfield, IL 62777