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News Clips

News Clips – Jul. 29 – Aug. 5, 2005


Spending gap grows for schools
/ Chicago Tribune
State education officials say added flexibility makes No Child Left Behind compliance fairer
Decatur Herald & Review
Lawsuits splinter Belleville School Board / Belleville News-Democrat
New school gives its kids a head start / Chicago Tribune
Board tries to limit moves during school year / State Journal-Register
Education needs a sense of urgency / Journal Standard
School officials tired of unfunded laws / Peoria Journal Star
Excitement marks opening of R.I. academies / Quad-Cities Online
For retired volunteers, tutoring fills a need / Chicago Sun-Times
Top students disappointed / Peoria Journal Star
Mom describes bus ride after school closed / Peoria Journal Star
Third of grads not ready for college / Chicago Sun-Times
Let's get back to education / Belleville News-Democrat
Drive cautiously, obey laws with school starting / Decatur Herald & Review

Spellings reaches out to teachers / eSchool News Online
Hope abounds surrounding NCLB / Augusta Free Press (VA)
Educational standards, accountability must be preserved / Fauquier Times-Democrat (VA)
Public Schools Begin to Offer Gym Classes Online / New York Times
Hawaiian-only schools discriminatory, court says / Chicago Sun-Times
Feds should fund NCLB / Delmarva Daily Times (MD)
Bush backs instruction in evolution, intelligent design / Kansas City Star
Special-Ed Racial Imbalance Spurs Sanctions /
Washington Post
Cobb school board pulls plug on laptops / Atlanta Journal-Constitution
Pittsburgh district's choice for superintendent illustrates trend / Boston Globe
Bible Course Becomes a Test for Public Schools in Texas / New York Times
When Teachers Don't Make the Grade /
Los Angeles Times
Teacher reprimanded for licking wounds / Boston Globe
Fast-food franchisers show doing homework does pay / Chicago Tribune
Leading Republican differs with Bush on evolution / Boston Globe
Education chief defends No Child law / Houston Chronicle
22 Miami school employees charged with drug traffic /
Baltimore Sun



Spending gap grows for schools
Despite state effort, poor districts can't gain ground on rich
Diane Rado and Darnell Little, Chicago Tribune
This story contains corrected material.
A misspelled word has been corrected in this text.
The gap in pupil spending between the richest and the poorest school districts in
Illinois grew even wider last year, despite Gov. Rod Blagojevich's push to funnel hundreds of millions of dollars more in state aid to less-affluent schools.
The difference between the highest- and lowest-spending districts was $19,361 per pupil in 2003-04, about $4,000 higher than the year before and the biggest school-spending gap in a decade, a Tribune analysis of state financial data shows.
Local property taxes continued to make up the bulk of school resources, with richer communities pouring more money into their schools. That dwarfed an influx of state aid to poorer schools.
In a state criticized nationally for a school system of haves and have nots, the newest spending figures have given tax-reform advocates new impetus to push for wholesale change in the way Illinois pays for schools.
"The state cannot allow us to keep having wider and wider gaps between wealthy and poor districts," said Sharon Voliva, a school board member and chairman of the Better Funding for Better Schools Coalition, which supports raising statewide taxes and reducing reliance on local property taxes.
Solutions for closing the gap have remained elusive, with politicians, including Blagojevich, unwilling to raise the state income tax or consider more controversial measures, such as limiting spending by affluent districts. A bill that would have raised state income taxes and helped pay a portion of local property owners' school tax bills died in the spring legislative session.
Meanwhile, spending disparities play out in classrooms every day.
Cook County's Northbrook Grade School District 27 is so flush with cash that it spends $15,308 per pupil, pays teachers an average salary of about $64,000 and can afford school repair projects without borrowing a dime.
Twenty miles to the south, the struggling
Bellwood elementary district in west Cook spends $6,828 per pupil and pays teachers about $44,000 on average. Leaky roofs and moldy carpets aren't repaired, and 20 special-education teacher jobs remain vacant, even though the new school year is fast approaching.
"Money makes a difference because then you are able to attract the better teachers," said
Bellwood interim Supt. Willie Mack, whose students are mostly minority and poor.
At the two extremes, the tiny Rondout elementary district in
Lake County spent $23,799 per pupil in 2003-04, compared with $4,438 spent by Central School District 51, a grade school district in Tazewell County in the middle of the state.
A broader look at school districts showed the top 10 percent of districts spent an average of $12,898 per pupil, compared with $5,862 for the bottom 10 percent--virtually unchanged from the year before.
The state's contribution to public education--about 30 percent of all school revenue--also remained unchanged, despite a $400.9 million increase in state aid in 2003-04.
About $300 million of that amount went to raising the "foundation level," the base guaranteed per-pupil aid, by $250, the largest increase since 2000. Because of the way
Illinois distributes school money, less-affluent districts benefit more than wealthy districts when the foundation level increases.
Although $400 million sounds big, it got lost in the larger picture of school funding: A total of $19.3 billion went into schools from federal, state and local sources in 2003-04. Of that figure, 62 percent came from local sources, mainly property taxes.
Those local revenues rose by $842.9 million, almost 8 percent more than the year before and the highest annual increase in a decade. Education officials attributed the increase to school tax referendum items and property reassessments that brought in more taxes, among other reasons.

Elliot Regenstein, the governor's director of education reform, said local communities likely felt pressured to raise more money because state aid to education dropped in 2002-03, the budget year before Blagojevich took office. The decrease in state aid was about $106 million that year, state finance data show.
Blagojevich will continue to focus on increasing the base per-pupil state aid, Regenstein said.
We are making a serious and sustained effort to improve the conditions of those schools most in need in state funding," he said.
But some educators, lawmakers and tax-reform advocates say Blagojevich's efforts, though well intentioned, won't solve the problem of inequitable school spending in
"What we're seeing, really, is minor infusions [of state aid]. The only way to make up for tremendous gaps is tremendous infusions," said Ralph Martire, executive director of the Chicago-based Center for Tax and Budget Accountability, a leader in school finance reform efforts.
State Sen. Miguel del Valle (D-Chicago), co-chairman of a Senate committee that has been examining school tax reform, said total equity--equal funding among school districts--is no longer his goal, given political realities.
Politicians are loath to bring down top-spending districts or force rich districts to share their wealth.
Litigation nationwide, too, has shifted from equity to adequacy--ensuring that all children receive at least the level of education guaranteed by their state constitutions.
"I gave up speaking about equity," del Valle said. "What I talk about is adequacy instead of equity, and I think that's our goal."
Illinois lags far behind a foundation level of $6,405 per student that a school spending advisory board recommended this spring. The foundation amount is $5,164 for the upcoming school year.
The situation becomes murky because research has shown that more money isn't always necessary or even strongly linked to higher scores on achievement tests.
In the lowest-spending district,
Central School District 51 in Tazewell County, for example, about 80 percent of students passed state tests in reading, math and other subjects in 2004, well above the state average of 62.4 percent.
Supt. Kirk Hines acknowledged that the district has few low-income or special-education students, who usually demand more resources.
And unlike more affluent districts, Central 51 doesn't offer an art program or foreign language programs in elementary or junior high. The average teacher salary last year was about $39,000. There was no school librarian until about two years ago--the district relied on parent volunteers--and there is no school nurse.
Hines said he also serves as business manager and transportation director to save on administrative costs. This summer, he's even getting licensed to drive a school bus, so he can be a back-up driver when necessary.
In affluent Northbrook District 27, students have a full instrumental music program, and children can get small group lessons in several instruments. There are art classes twice a week and foreign language classes in middle school.
Class sizes remain small--18 to 20 students--and the district has invested in teacher training by increasing the number of professional development days and assigning staff to work full-time on teacher training. In 2004, 88 percent of the district's students passed state tests.
Supt. David Kroeze said the community has committed itself to supporting its schools and his and other affluent districts shouldn't be hurt if
Illinois changes its school finance system.
"The answer is not in redistributing property tax dollars from one part of the state to another," he said.
However, "I think that we do need more money in education, and it should go to districts that do not have sufficient funds to operate," Kroeze said.
But research also has shown that disadvantaged students need and can benefit from higher spending, including extra tutoring and small class sizes.
In Bellwood District 88 in west
Cook County, 54 percent of students are low-income and the vast majority of children are black or Hispanic. Only 45.5 percent of students passed state tests last year.
And although interim Supt. Mack praises his teachers and staff, he said he doesn't have money to compete for the best reading, math and special-education specialists that his students need.
The inequities in school spending have gone on for years in
Illinois, Mack said, and all the discussions have yet to produce a solution.
In the meantime, he said, "we do the best we can."
-Spending gap widens between school districts
Disparities in pupil spending across
Illinois are getting worse, with the gap between the highest and lowest-spending districts increasing by 26 percent between 2002-03 and 2003-04, the largest increase in a decade.

Spending per pupil (1994-2004)
Highest spender: $23,799 -
Rondout School District 72, Lake County
Lowest spender: $4,438 -
Central School District 51, Tazewell County
By percent of total
Local communities pick up most of the tab for schools through property taxes, and wealthy communities can afford to spend more than poor ones on their schoolchildren.
Local      State       Federal   Total

1994        66.1%     28.1%     5.9%       $11.1 billion
1996        66.7%     27.3%     6.0%       $12.3 billion
1998        65.3%     28.4%     6.4%       $13.9 billion
2000        62.1%     30.9%     7.1%       $16.3 billion
2002        61.4%     31.2%     7.3%       $17.5 billion
2004        62.0%     30.0%     8.0%       $19.3 billion

Note: Go to the Illinois State Board of Education's ILEARN website to view a district's spending.
Illinois State Board of Education

State education officials say added flexibility makes No Child Left Behind compliance fairer
Decatur Herald & Review Staff Writer, 7/31/05

SPRINGFIELD - Illinois school officials say they will have a fairer assessment under recent changes to the state's implementation of No Child Left Behind.

"While the changes do make the system fairer, they do not necessarily make it easier to understand," wrote Becky Watts, director of the Illinois State Board of Education's public information office, in a letter to schools. In June, the federal government approved
Illinois' application to change the implementation of some components of the law. The changes will take effect in regard to the tests taken this spring.

No Child Left Behind is the federal government's education reform act requiring schools to show steady progress in reaching student performance goals, with a target of 100 percent of students testing at grade level by 2014.

Students in "subgroups" - low English proficiency, low income, minority and special needs - also must hit performance targets and are counted separately. Until the changes, if one subgroup failed to meet standards, the school or district was considered failing as well.

One of the changes,
Watts said, is that the number of students in a subgroup for that group to count separately has risen to 45 from 40. Those students will still be counted as individuals and in district totals, but if the group contains fewer than 45 students in a grade level and fails to meet performance goals, their scores won't keep their building or district from meeting Adequate Yearly Performance targets.

"That does have the potential for helping individual schools," said Dawn Torchia, community engagement specialist for
Decatur schools. "Last year, we thought Enterprise (School) did not make (adequate yearly progress), but once we went back through the data, we realized one of the subgroups was disaggregated, and there weren't 40 students."

Among the other changes:

- Schools will be allowed to add 14 percent to the scores of students with disabilities. Education Secretary Margaret Spellings announced this in May.

- A district can only be determined to have failed to make Adequate Yearly Progress if all of its grade spans failed to meet testing targets. Grade spans, for testing purposes, are grades three through five; six through eight; and nine through 12. For example, in a district such as
Decatur that serves all grades, if only one of those grade spans meets testing targets, then the district has made adequate yearly progress.

- One change takes effect with next year's testing. Test scores of students enrolled in the district on May 1 must be included in the district's report card. If a student moves within a district - a problem in Decatur, especially, with its high mobility rate and some students who move three or four times a school year - that student's scores will be included with the district totals, but not in an individual school's report card.

"Our department and the governor's office worked closely with the federal government to seek these changes,"
Watts said in a phone interview. "We think it's the most fair and accurate way to measure adequate yearly progress in Illinois and meets the requirements of No Child Left Behind."


Lawsuits splinter Belleville School Board
Alexa Aguilar, St. Louis Post-Dispatch
In the days after Judy Cates' election to the Belleville Township High School Board of Education, Superintendent Brent Clark's phone rang with calls from local lawyers predicting he'd have a lawsuit on his desk in 90 days.
"It only took us 60,"
Clark said last week.
Last month, Cates sued the district, accusing it of violating parts of
Illinois' freedom of information laws.
The board filed a countersuit last week. It claims Cates shouldn't have attached bills and letters from the school district's attorneys because those documents are protected by attorney-client privilege from public viewing.
Squabbling school boards are nothing new. But a feuding board with one of the Metro East area's most tenacious trial lawyers at its center can shift differences of opinion from closed meetings to the courthouse.
Cates, a former prosecutor and now a prominent plaintiff's lawyer, doesn't apologize for repeatedly calling out the district's officials. She ran for the board, she said, because the board's business needs to be conducted more openly.
A Belleville East graduate and mother of three, Cates started attending School Board meetings last year when the board was considering a dress code for high school students. But her decision to run stemmed from a larger concern, she said.
"I was very outspoken about the dress code, but I was more outspoken about how (the board) wouldn't respond to people," Cates said.
"I told everyone I believe strongly in the public's right to know, and it's going to stop here."
She plans to challenge the board Monday night for suing her. She wants to know when the board met to authorize the suit.
The district's countersuit "is another example of the district wanting to keep people in the dark," Cates said.
Out of the seven candidates running for election last April, Cates received the most votes. Her suit already has created a "better environment," she said.
But that depends on whom you ask.
Clark said Cates' suit and requests for records have cost the district about $20,000 in legal fees and employee time. There are tense moments in board meetings now, he said, and a "delicate threshold" during conversation. At a recent meeting, Cates repeatedly questioned items on the agenda - providing a refreshing air of debate to some, unnecessary controversy to others.
The district decided to sue "because we feel like we need to,"
Clark said. "We want to deal with the issues and then move on."
Fellow board member Al Scharf said he has nothing but respect for Cates. He's sparred with her during committee meetings, but it's professional, he said. He said he hopes collegiality can be restored.
"Any board member has the legal right to raise the issues she is raising," Scharf said, adding that it's unfortunate it's ended up in court.
According to Ben Schwarm, associate executive director of the Illinois School Boards Association, a splintered board isn't unusual. But swapping lawsuits is.
"I wouldn't say that was an optimal situation for a district," Schwarm said. "When you have a splintered board, it can be uncomfortable for the board, the superintendent and the community."
But personality conflicts are bound to arise when seven people - with district residence as their only commonality - meet monthly to make decisions, Schwarm said. Those different perspectives are valuable, he said, but they also can lead to contention.
Consider the St. Louis School Board, where personalities also have clashed and arguments occasionally have ended up in court.
Just months after their election in 2001, former board members
Amy Hilgemann and Rochell Moore sued to force the St. Louis School Board president to tell them who ordered the district's law firm to investigate the two. The rest of the board was upset over a mailing Hilgemann and Moore sent to the city's Board of Aldermen and the Missouri School Boards Association that included an alternate budget the two had prepared.
Hilgemann said Friday that she has no regrets about suing for access to records because board members should have access to any that they request. When a district hesitates, the logical conclusion is that it has something to hide, she said.
In 2004, William Roberti, the acting superintendent, sued then-board member Bill Haas for slander, after Haas suggested several times that Roberti was closing an elementary school because of a back-door deal.
Schwarm said most board conflicts are resolved with time, training and experience. But those remedies are harder to apply once a quarrel reaches a courthouse.


New school gives its kids a head start
Tracy Dell'Angela, Chicago Tribune, 8/2/05
Jasmine Willingham walked into her new kindergarten classroom at
Legacy Charter School Monday, becoming one of the first Chicago children to benefit from the city's bold experiment to transform failing neighborhood schools.
Legacy is the first school to open under Renaissance 2010 reforms and the only one to be sponsored by a
Chicago company. A year of meticulous planning saw its principal scouring the region for top-notch teachers and selling families throughout its West Side neighborhood on the school's merits.
Opening a full five weeks before other city schools, Legacy aims to offer a dramatically different educational experience at an early age for some of the city's most vulnerable children. Legacy launched with 103 children from pre-kindergarten to 2nd grade in four vibrantly decorated classrooms, each staffed by two teachers. The goal is to move into a permanent home next year and by 2013 to grow into a school serving 480 students through Grade 8. About 80 percent of the students are drawn from the neighborhood.
"I really love the way the teachers and the principal seem so interested in the kids. It's like one-on-one learning," said LaShanda Willingham, who attended a back-to-school barbecue Saturday with other Legacy families. "In CPS, it's like you're a number. But here, they know your name. It's like a family connection."
Temporarily housed in a wing of a
North Lawndale school, Legacy is backed by a $1 million commitment from prominent Loop law firm Sonnenschein, Nath & Rosenthal.
For a strong start and to create continuity among the staff, the law firm hired twice as many teachers as needed in its first year, creating a student-teacher ratio of 12-1. The ratio will roughly double next year but will remain below that of a typical
Chicago classroom.
Freed from the constraints of the union contract, Legacy will be open 10 months a year from
8 a.m. to 3:30 p.m.--about 90 minutes longer than district-run schools. Children will get two to three recess breaks, playtime that has been all but eliminated in city schools. A board of directors will govern the school, assisted by a parent committee.
Parent Victoria Finner knew even before school started that her daughters were given a rare opportunity--seats chosen by lottery in an inner-city public school that boasts private school amenities and a culture that stresses college education in the youngest grades.
Last year, when her daughter Rhazsanee attended kindergarten at another
North Lawndale school, Finner said her child lost ground because she had four teachers in one year. Finner rarely visited the school because she felt disconnected and unwelcome. But even before Legacy opened, Finner had the chance to meet the teachers and discuss her daughter's needs with Principal Lisa Kenner.
Finner has heard about the controversy surrounding Renaissance, that the big law firm used political connections to secure a charter school in her neighborhood. But she didn't pay much attention to skeptics, in part because what she has seen so far has convinced her that this school will make a difference in her daughters' lives.
"I look at it as a blessing that someone looked into the eyes of the young children in this neighborhood and said, `Hey, these kids need a chance,'" she said. "This will be a challenge for my children, but I think they will experience more and have a real chance to learn."
In a sense, Legacy was a Renaissance school even before Mayor Richard Daley announced the reform initiative in June 2004. One partner in the law firm, Don Lubin, pushed the city to expand its charter school options in his role as an education director for the Commercial Club of Chicago, an influential civic group. When the mayor unveiled his plan to close failing schools and create 100 new ones, Sonnenschein already had hired experienced principal
Kenner to shape the charter proposal and bring it to fruition.
The law firm wanted to find a meaningful way to commemorate its 100th birthday, and so decided to forgo a swanky anniversary party and make Legacy its legacy. Sonnenschein secured a charter, becoming one of 12 new Renaissance schools approved by the district to open this year.
"What we bring is creativity, energy and a willingness to experiment," said Errol Stone, a Sonnenschein partner who took a year's hiatus from legal practice to work exclusively on the school's creation and serve as chairman of the charter board.
But Sonnenschein didn't enjoy a smooth launch into the stormy seas swirling around the Renaissance plan. The Legacy proposal has been a lightning rod for critics convinced that Renaissance is a conspiracy to privatize city schools, squash local governance and break the teachers union.
A big roadblock was securing a location. Originally, parents and community advocates urged Sonnenschein to pursue the now-closed
Howland School building, also in North Lawndale. But Chicago schools reversed the decision after an alderman suggested the firm received preferential treatment. That led Legacy leaders to their temporary home, Mason Elementary, 4217 W. 18th St.
Legacy is getting the same $4,325 base per-pupil funding the district is giving to all the other elementary charter schools housed in district buildings. Charter schools also get extra money in federal low-income grants and to cover special education services. The law firm plans to bolster the school's budget for the next five years with its own money and donated labor and equipment from its
Chicago office. Teachers will not be union members but will get union-level pay.
The vision and the money for Legacy might be coming from Sonnenschein, but its culture is being shaped by
Kenner, a charismatic educator who dreamed of a singing career and became a teacher after volunteering at a school. She learned the ropes working with the system's most challenging students, including those in juvenile detention, and later became principal of Triumphant Charter, a South Side school that closed this year and once targeted the system's lowest-scoring middle-schoolers.
A tall, effusive woman,
Kenner greets children by name and with giant hugs. Parents gush about her.
"I don't have all the educational theorists to quote, but I have 15 years of working with children," said
Kenner. "And I know that building a school is about building relationships."
And in building Legacy, she will be guided by the memory of one of her first students, a troubled boy named Tyrone who was convinced the aspiring singer would abandon him and his school. He was right about her leaving, but
Kenner's regret persuaded her to reverse the fortunes of students who come to expect so little stability in their neighborhood schools.
"I was thinking about Tyrone, who had done so much to redefine himself," she said. "And one day, I will find Tyrone and thank him for setting a fire in my soul."


Board tries to limit moves during school year
Pete Sherman, State Journal-Register, 8/2/05
It used to be
Springfield School District policy to simply send kids to school based on where they lived.
According to the Springfield School Board, that policy is too simple, considering that many of the district's low-income students are transient and often move throughout the year. About one of every four district students attends more than one school during a given year. For some
Springfield schools, the rate can be more than one of every three students.
Studies suggest highly mobile students are less likely to do well in school.
On Monday night, the board qualified its school-assignment rule by acknowledging a "direct relationship between academic success" and keeping a student at the same school throughout the year. It voted to "strongly encourage" district officials to do what they can to keep a student at the same school year-round.
The board doesn't know exactly how this policy will take shape or what it will cost. It is allowing School Superintendent Diane Rutledge to experiment with different approaches throughout the 2005-06 school year, during what is being considered a "pilot phase." The district might try any number of things, such as adding or rerouting bus routes to coming up with brand-new services for transporting the most transient students.
Though the state reimburses districts for transporting students who live more than 1.5 miles from their schools, the board recognized its policy update might require an increase in spending.
"(It) is recognized that additional new costs may be incurred," states the new policy, which adds that the "district shall exercise fiscal prudence."
Board member Cheryl Wise, who recommended the changes during the board's last meeting two weeks ago, said the policy is a good step toward solving a problem directly tied to low student achievement.
"I'm hoping that what will happen is that students who tend to move frequently - and there does seem to be a trend for those students who live in poverty to move frequently - (will) improve their relationships to their teachers and their principals and have a more stable environment," Wise said.
The board Monday also decided to move forward on the formation of a committee to assess the district's programs for gifted students.
Earlier this year, representatives from
Iles School, the elementary center for gifted students, lobbied the board to approve adding middle school grades at Iles. The board rejected the proposal but promised to assess the needs of gifted students districtwide.
The committee, which could number up to 35 members, will include board appointees and meet throughout the fall semester with the goal of reporting its findings early next year.
In other action, the board approved putting two schools up for sale:
Dodds School, 2630 Whittier Ave., and Matheny School, 2200 E. Jackson St. Both schools recently were closed to make way for newer or upgraded facilities.
The district will take sealed bids for three weeks. For more information, interested buyers can call Dave Smith, the district's director of operations and maintenance, at 525-3051.


Education needs a sense of urgency
Journal Standard Editorial

The issue: School funding inequities
Our view: The governor needs to take the lead on a massive overhaul of the current funding system.
The Chicago Tribune on Monday released an analysis of state education funding and the ensuing report probably shouldn't surprise anyone.
The gap between the haves and the have-nots last year was the largest it's been in a decade. Given the current funding system, it will continue to grow. During the 2003-2004 school year, Rondout elementary district in
Lake County spent $23,799 per pupil - $19,361 more than Tazewell County's Central School District 51, according to the Tribune report.
While we realize there are no easy answers regarding school funding reform, it's unfortunate that state politicians have not shown the sense of urgency this issue demands. Early on in the Blagojevich administration, the governor made it very clear that he would not support sales or income tax hikes to increase education funding. That unwavering approach has split the Democratic ranks, drawing fierce criticism from Chicago Mayor Richard Daley and Senate leader Emil Jones.
Jones and Daley supported the tax swap proposal, which would have cut property taxes and instituted a substantial income tax increase. Supporters believed this fundamental shift away from property taxes was needed to make school funding more equitable. The bill died in the General Assembly's spring session.
At various times, lip service also has been paid to expanding gaming in
Illinois or even becoming the first state to bring the Lottery online. Gaming opponents believe the state's current reliance on gambling revenues is partially responsible for the state budget shortfall and that more of the same would only fuel the fire. Blagojevich has vacillated on gaming expansion and now seems to be open to discussions about generating more money for schools by doubling up on slot machines and gaming tables in the state's existing riverboat casinos.
Daley has publically stated that a sweeping overhaul of the education funding system is needed and that the governor must take the lead. The mayor is correct in that assessment. Blagojevich cannot continue to just tell us why he doesn't like any of the ideas that are being proposed and continue to aim his slingshot at the enormous beast that is school funding inequity.
The governor earlier in the year cited a State Board of Education study that showed the number of school districts operating in the red dropped from 77 percent to 45 percent from 2003 to 2004. The results are misleading, however, because many of those districts have mortgaged their futures by borrowing up to their legal limits and selling bonds to cover expenses.
There is no time for shooting more pebbles from the slingshot. Education needs to become the state's top priority and the governor needs to reconcile himself to the fact that nothing short of a massive overhaul will give our children the education they deserve - regardless of where they live in


School officials tired of unfunded laws
Educators say financing government mandates is becoming impossible
Molly Parker, Peoria Journal Star, 8/3/05
PEORIA - Several local school administrators speaking at U.S. Rep. Ray LaHood's Central Illinois Education Summit on Tuesday said they are tired of the government hamstringing schools with unfunded mandates.
The educators complained that requirements passed down through President Bush's No Child Left Behind Act as well as various state-directed demands have lacked the necessary funding.
"It's gotten to the point where if we put something new in, we have to say what comes out because we can't fund everything," Metamora High School Superintendent Ken Maurer said. "More and more keeps getting piled on us, and you never take any of the requirements or mandates away."
LaHood, R-Peoria, the event's host, said he voted for the No Child Left Behind Act as a member of Congress because he believes in the act's underlying mission of setting higher standards for
America's school-aged youth. But he acknowledged that many of its requirements have proven unrealistic, and that the federal government had not picked up its fair share of the cost.
"We haven't provided, at the federal level, the kind of resources that were promised," LaHood said at the summit at the
Gateway Building.
The recently passed budget could mean more money trickling into local school districts in a few years for the act's requirements as well as mandates regarding special education, LaHood said.
Dunlap Superintendent Jeanne Williamson also asked during the meeting about the state's school construction grant program that has been largely on hold during the past several years
"These are huge ticket items for schools," Williamson said. "If we don't get any help from the state at all, it will be passed directly to our local property tax payers."
Bloomington Sen. Bill Brady said the program has not been resurrected because Republicans are concerned about Gov. Rod Blagojevich's bonding methods, and whether he'll fairly distribute the grants if the financing were approved. Brady, a GOP contender to unseat Democrat Blagojevich in the November 2006 election, said he's concerned the governor might bypass schools in districts represented by Republicans.
"Frankly, it comes down to trust," Brady said. "We just don't trust this administration."
Jack Gilligan, president emeritus of Fayette Cos. and chairman of LaHood's committee on career and technical education, also talked to the 40 area administrators in attendance about the importance of community schools. Such institutions are open for the majority of the day and provide services beyond classroom teaching, such as mentoring, structured recreational activities and adult classes.
"The school becomes the hub, the spirit and the soul of the community in which the people live," Gilligan said.


Excitement marks opening of R.I. academies
Robin J. Youngblood, Quad-Cities Online, 8/3/05
ROCK ISLAND -- Students, some balancing backpacks larger than their small frames, started classes Tuesday at the new Primary and Intermediate Academies.
The schools were formed in a union of the former Hawthorne-Irving,
Lincoln and Grant elementaries. The school board voted about eight months ago to close Grant and create the academies at the former Lincoln and Hawthorne-Irving buildings because of low test scores. The two schools now have a clean slate under academic requirements of the federal No Child Left Behind Act.
Before school even started, families and children were excited about their new schools.
As students arrived at the new
Primary Academy, some grasped their parents' hands and others stood near their teachers.
"I'm very excited," said Margaret Archie, parent of students in kindergarten and second grade at the
Primary Academy, which teaches students in preschool through second grade. Third- through sixth-graders attend the Intermediate Academy.
Last year, one of her children went to Grant. "It was a big change" to come to a new school, but they will be with the same children, she reasoned. "It's a little confusing" to the kids, Ms. Archie said, "but they'll be OK."
LaQuadia Edwards brought her daughter, Sharonjuante, 5, to kindergarten.
"I think it's going to be better because all the kids are younger and more their age," she said of the academy.
Some blocks away at the
Intermediate Academy, children started their day but with more maturity and composure. They sat quietly during the opening ceremony, even though the auditorium was hot.
Shae Slavish, a former
Milan parent who recently moved to Rock Island, didn't know about the changes but was taking it all in stride.
"I hope they say this is a really cool place to go," Ms. Slavish said about her fourth- and fifth-grade kids. "I hope (the school) lives up to the expectation."
More than 300 students attend each academy, superintendent Rick Loy said during opening ceremonies.
Several local lawmakers and state superintendent Randy Dunn also made a special trip from
Springfield to the Quad-Cities to attend the academies' opening. He commended the district's new approaches to fixing the school's chronically low test scores.
"They were looking at what they can do to improve education" while others were saying, `Let's wait, let's hold off,"' Mr. Dunn said.
Rock Island-Milan is now a "lighthouse for the state" because instead of letting the problem overcome them, districts leaders took action before the state did, he added.
Under federal law, schools whose test scores are low for more than four years could be taken over by the state and have their administration and staff replaced.
"Education in
Rock Island schools will never be the same," said school board president Bill Cleaver.
"The beginning is the most important part of the work," Mr. Loy said, quoting Greek philosopher Plato, "especially in the case of a young and tender thing; for that is the time at which the character is being formed."
People gathered on the front lawn at the
Primary Academy and sang "Happy Birthday" to their new school and said the Pledge of Allegiance.
At the
Intermediate Academy, the Rev. David McAdams asked the students to pledge: "I promise to do my best 24/7."
Rock Island Mayor Mark Schwiebert told the students they would make their school succeed. "No one can make you feel inferior without your consent," he said, quoting Eleanor Roosevelt. "We're all rooting for your success."
"It's going to be a great year," said Intermediate principal Mike Russell to the children. "Everyday, come in and make it the best day we can possibly make it."


For retired volunteers, tutoring fills a need
Willine Valentin,
Chicago Sun-Times, 8/3/05
Just because 65-year-old Lizzie Brown is retired doesn't mean she has to stop working in her.
"I really wanted to do something to keep me busy," said Brown, of Morgan Park.
So Brown became one of the age 55-plus adults in the Experience Corps program, which puts them to work in classrooms to help teachers and work with students.
Brown, who worked as a registered nurse, said being a tutor allows her to contribute. "I feel like I owe the community something because when I was growing up poor I got a lot of help," said Brown.
She tutors at
Bontemps Elementary School, 58th and Throop, where 88 students from Copernicus Elementary, 6010 S. Throop, are in summer school.
Students can relate to the older tutors: "They remind me of my grandma because my grandma taught me things before she passed," said Pete McKinney, 12, of
The Experience Corps program began as a part of Working In The Schools, a not-for-profit organization involving community members in tutoring and mentoring children in Chicago Public Schools.
"It's such a growing resource. I think it's something like 70 million baby boomers are going to be retiring," said Mary Ellen Guest, executive director of WITS. "Here you have this growing resource to work on solving literacy."


Top students disappointed
Loss of Merit Recognition Scholarships means more loans for some
Adriana Colindres, Copley News Service,
Peoria Journal Star, 8/4/05
SPRINGFIELD - Kristann Stenson of Peoria earned good grades in high school - so good she qualified for $1,000 Merit Recognition Scholarship from the state.

But the recent graduate, now bound for the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, learned last month the new state budget does not fund the program, so she won't receive the scholarship money after all.
"I was kind of, like, let down," Stenson said.
She and other students learned about the lack of funding in a letter from the Illinois Student Assistance Commission, which administers the MRS program.
After reading the letter, Stenson thought to herself, "OK, there's another $1,000 I've got to take out in loans."
The MRS program is designed to honor high-achieving students who will attend an
Illinois college. To qualify, students must rank in the top 5 percent of their high school class at the end of the third semester before graduation, or they must score in the top 5 percent of Illinois students taking standardized tests such as the ACT.
The scholarships are nonrenewable, one-time awards.
Would-be scholarship recipients aren't the only ones disappointed by the state's failure to fund the MRS program for the fiscal year that began July 1.
"I just think it's a shame," said Peoria High School Principal Randy Simmons. "These kids worked real hard."
Historically, state funding for the MRS program has been erratic, said Kathy Rooney, deputy executive director for the Illinois Student Assistance Commission. The program sometimes has been partially funded or not funded at all.
On the other hand,
Illinois "has an almost unparalleled record when it comes to need-based aid," Rooney said, pointing to an increase in funding for the monetary award program.
The new state budget boosts MAP grant spending by $11.7 million, with $8 million coming from the state's general revenue fund and the rest in matching funds from the federal government, said Becky Carroll, spokeswoman for the Governor's Office of Management and Budget. More than $350 million is to be spent on MAP grants this fiscal year, she said.
Stanley Ikenberry, former president of the
University of Illinois, said Illinois' greater emphasis on need-based aid, rather than on merit-based awards, is "a positive policy move, in my judgment, and contrary to a national trend over the last 10 years running in the opposite direction."
"My problem with merit awards is not that high-achieving students do not deserve recognition and reward, which they often already receive in psychic and monetary form, but that these same students often tend to come from high-income families," Ikenberry, a former president of the American Council on Education, said in an e-mail interview.
"The college students who need financial help, however, are those from low-income families who somehow have the motivation and the ability to gain admission to an accredited college. These are the students who otherwise can be lost to society," he said.


Mom describes bus ride after school closed
Phyllis Coulter,
Peoria Journal Star, 8/4/05
PEKIN -- Julie Martin, a Hopedale mother of four, said her husband quit his job of 19 years in February to be able to help take their children to school.
Without his help, there wasn't enough time for their kindergartner to have breakfast before the bus arrived at
6:35 a.m., said Martin, a registered nurse who works in Pekin.
The children go to
Olympia West Elementary School in Minier because Hopedale Elementary School closed in June 2004. Martin said the switch from going to school in town to riding the bus for more than an hour each morning and night was too difficult.
"When they got off the bus (after school), they would be in tears and be hungry and thirsty," she said of the kindergartners, who don't get lunch in the half-day program.
He quit his job to be available at home for the children, ages 4, 5, 6 and 12, and to volunteer at school, she said.
Martin was among 13 people who testified under oath Wednesday in favor of a petition to switch Hopedale from the
Olympia school district to the Delavan district. Supporters of the switch say it will allow the Hopedale school to reopen, but opponents say the move will diminish the quality of education for all the students now in Olympia.
About 35 people attended the first day of testimony Wednesday. Hearings will continue in the coming weeks, and the Regional Board of School Trustees could make its decision in October.
"The purpose of the testimony and the exhibits is to determine what's in the best interest of schools and pupils," Phil Lenzini, a
Peoria attorney for petitioners, said in his opening remarks.
Wednesday's Testimony focused on the history of the issue, busing, half-day kindergarten, quality of education at Delavan, activity fees in
Olympia, and how losing a school affects a community. Pro-Olympia testimony and public comment will come later in the process.
Opponents of the switch argue letting Hopedale leave Olympia would cost the district 11 percent of its students and 13 percent of its tax base, said Olympia attorney Jeff Funk.
"We will determine how it (detachment) would affect
Olympia (school district) and the students there," Funk said.
Olympia officials argue closing schools in Hopedale, Stanford and McLean helped balance the budget after two failed property tax increase referendums.
Regional school Superintendent Rob Houchin said a decision could come on Oct. 3, but its more likely to come in late October.
Mark Rossi, chief operating officer of Hopedale Medical Complex, said he believes it may be more difficult for the medical complex to recruit and keep employees without a grade school in the village. The complex employs 300 people, making it the largest employer in Hopedale area and probably the largest in
Olympia district, he said.
"Community spirit is not what it used to be," Hopedale Village Board member Robert Nafziger said.
Lisa Perry and her family moved from
McLean to Delavan when their hometown school closed last year.
"We've had a positive experience with Delavan," she said.
She is more pleased with Delavan's accelerated opportunities for her son than with
Olympia's offerings.
The hearing resumes from
4 to 7 p.m. Aug. 22 at Tazewell County Justice Center in Pekin.


Third of grads not ready for college
Chicago Sun-Times Staff Reporter, 8/5/05

If colleges are to retain and graduate more students, the state needs to do a better job of educating them long before they set foot on campus, lawmakers and educators said Thursday.

New research presented by the Illinois Education Research Council at a meeting of the Senate Committee on Higher Education showed many
Illinois high school graduates are simply not prepared to go to college.

More than one-third of
Illinois graduates are not ready for college, said Jennifer Presley, director of the council, which is tracking nearly the entire class of 2002. Another 28 percent are only partially ready, she said. Yet 43 percent of the least ready students go to college, and 58 percent of minimally ready students do.

"It's shameful the number of people that are not prepared coming out of our high schools,'' said state Rep. Kevin McCarthy (D-Orland Park), chair of the House Committee on Higher Education.

That means when they get to college, they are forced to make up what they failed to learn earlier. Carol Lanning, senior director for program planning and accountability at the Illinois Community College Board, said one in seven community college students -- or 100,000 people -- are enrolled in remedial classes, often to get help in one or two subjects. But the 10 percent of students who need help in three subjects "rarely succeed no matter what,'' Lanning said.

Racial disparity decried

At City Colleges of
Chicago, many students find themselves taking 1-1/2 years of remedial courses before they can even start earning college credit, officials said. Often, when students learn how long it will take, "they vote with their feet'' and leave the school, said Perry Buckley, vice president of the Illinois Federation of Teachers and an English teacher at City Colleges.

Officials with the Chicago Public Schools said they were trying to do more to prepare students, such as more Advanced Placement courses.

Still, Senate Assistant Majority Leader Miguel del Valle (D-Chicago) thinks the colleges need to focus more resources on programs that help students make it through. He said schools needed to do a better job tracking students and determining why graduation rates for Latinos and blacks are so much lower than for whites and Asians.

"Why are we today still falling short of answering that critical question?'' he asked. "We've lost a lot of students over the last two decades. If we don't fully answer that question, how do we put together a plan to change those numbers?''

Let's get back to education
Belleville News-Democrat, 8/4/05

Judy Cates' war with the rest of the Belleville High School District 201 board just keeps escalating, to the point that you wonder if anyone in the district is talking about education these days.

Instead of an agenda focused on the good of the students and taxpayers, the board is being sucked into a vortex of distraction and legal sniping.

The lawsuit the school district filed to counter Cates' lawsuit was the hot topic at the board meeting Monday. Cates wanted to know why she wasn't included in the decision of whether to file a countersuit against her. Wouldn't that be a conflict of interest? Of course, if Cates had chosen to fight her battles in the boardroom rather than the courtroom, there would be no counter lawsuit.

Quick, does anyone even know what these lawsuits are about?

The board members and administrators need to take a deep breath and a step back. Is this really how they want to conduct the public's business for the next four years?

Cates started this war. But unless someone figures out a way to call a truce, this will be a no-win situation for everyone -- with the public the biggest losers.

Drive cautiously, obey laws with school starting
Letter by John McNary, superintendent, Regional Office of Education,
Charleston,  Decatur Herald & Review, 8/5/05

In a few short days, the youth of our communities will be returning to school. To ensure the safety of these children, it is our responsibility to know and adhere to the vehicle laws of
Illinois. As a reminder, please remember that when you meet or follow a school bus, Illinois law requires the following:

- Motorists must stop whenever the stop-signal arm on a school bus is extended and the 8-lamp flashing signal system is in operation, with the red lamps flashing.

- On one-way roadways, all traffic must stop.

- When a highway has at least four lanes of traffic and at least two of these lanes are traveling in a direction opposite from the bus, only motorists traveling in the same direction as the school bus must stop.

In addition, drivers must be aware of children crossing streets. In some cases, crossing guards regulate traffic patterns and speed.
Illinois law provides that an individual who fails or refuses to comply with a lawful order of a crossing guard may be fined up to $150. However, crossing guards are not always present. Please slow down and be aware that a child may suddenly appear in the road.

By using safe driving habits, you can help ensure a safe school year for the children of our region.



Spellings reaches out to teachers
Ed Sec signals NCLB leeway at AFT conference
Laura Ascione, eSchool News Assistant Editor,
Education Secretary Margaret Spellings, speaking at the American Federation of Teachers (AFT) conference in
Washington, D.C., indicated that she might consider a "growth model" of assessment--a system of measuring individual students' academic improvement as they advance from grade to grade--that could allow states to change how they rate student progress.

Reaching out to the AFT audience during a "conversation" with AFT President Edward J. McElroy, in which she answered pre-determined questions, Spellings appeared receptive to teachers' concerns and indicated that she shared many of the AFT members' goals.

"A school not meeting AYP [Adequate Yearly Progress] or a school in need of improvement is not, in my opinion, a failing school," Spellings said to an applauding crowd during the July 8 gathering. She said the U.S. Department of Education (ED) is looking seriously at a growth model for the No Child Left Behind (NCLB) program, but provided few specifics.

On July 14, an ED spokesman gave eSchool News an update.

"Right now, a growth-model working group is trying to figure out what exactly that growth model would be," said Chad Colby, an ED deputy press secretary. "We want to know if there's a way we can still get students to proficiency by using different levels of growth [for students who perform at different levels]," he said.

At press time, the working group had met only once. It was expected to meet again to determine if states can track growth by showing significant overall gains from year to year instead of having everyone meet the same benchmark, Colby added.

During the conference, AFT's emphasis was on urging ED to make practical alterations to NCLB. McElroy said many teachers think the current AYP requirement doesn't really measure progress, a notion reflected in the AFT's advocacy program called "NCLB--Let's Get It Right." He added that teachers and paraprofessionals feel the law's emphasis is more on testing and less on the quality of instruction, and that many subjects still believed to be important--such as foreign languages and civics--are shortchanged because students are not tested on them.

Spellings said she heard similar concerns from educators in
Texas when implementing a precursor to NCLB with then-Gov. Bush, suggesting that teachers of subjects such as foreign languages and civics should be patient. NCLB started with reading and math, she noted, but now is moving on to science, and eventually will bring all the important subjects to the fore.

Under the No Child Left Behind (NCLB) law, schools are judged on how current students in a grade score compared with how the previous year's students in that same grade scored on reading and math tests, instead of following a student's progress through different grades.

"We also believe, however, that we have to keep score ... and have to make assessments to know where [students] are," McElroy said. "How do you take care of both concerns?"

"In many ways ... we're in the infancy of testing and accountability. We're going to have a rounding-out of this keeping score," Spellings responded.

To have a sound growth model system, schools first need annual data, Spellings said, acknowledging that ED and other educational organizations need improvement. Looking at data gives school administrators crucial information on what a school or district needs to improve, she said.

McElroy said some of the difficulty occurs when guidelines are set on the federal level but then handed to state officials, who get to decide what those guidelines mean and what proficiency levels meet those guidelines.

Spellings said she has heard similar concerns about school testing before, and that the testing system will be expanded to include more options. While her comments suggest ED will be open to exploring new options for meeting AYP, such as the growth model of assessment, educators presumably will have to wait to discover what those options might be. Still, her apparent readiness to work with educators is a good start, conference attendees said.

"We were pleased by her openness and her willingness to be there, speak with us, and express her views," said Richard Iannuzzi, president of New York State United Teachers.

Iannuzzi said AFT members generally disagree with Spellings on issues such as AYP interpretation and NCLB funding levels, but he said he was pleased to hear Spellings say a school that doesn't meet AYP is not a failing school. The AFT believes NCLB is needed but that it must change, and it's encouraging that Spellings would welcome the union's input, he added.

"She was frank in her responses and was willing to say where she disagreed with us and hear where we disagreed with her. I think that type of openness will go a long way," he said.

McElroy cited statistics showing that two-thirds of school districts will receive fewer Title I dollars this year, leaving them short of money. He also conveyed the AFT majority opinion that NCLB funding is inadequate and will not help the program.

"We're always going to have these talks about money," Spellings said. "I'm going to use my access to the White House to fight for all I can get within the budget" in a time of war.

Under Bush's leadership, she added, NCLB funding has increased 40 percent since the law was passed.

"I'm proud that we've focused Title I as never before on our neediest kids," Spellings answered, "and those resources have increased significantly."

Not everyone was fully impressed with Spellings' remarks.

"There are certain areas in which she was kind of rigid but managed to sound open," said attendee Mary Bergan, president of the California Federation of Teachers and a vice president of the AFT. "We would like to see the same standards applied to supplemental services and charter schools that are applied to public schools, and she sidestepped that [issue], so that was a concern."

In fact, when the conversation turned to supplemental services and charter schools, Spellings told McElroy and the audience that accountability is, in some ways, a state issue. Private supplemental service companies and charter schools are held to state standards and do not appear on state approval lists if they fall short of their states' requirements, she said.

Still, Bergan said, she was heartened that Spellings at least seemed amenable to changes on AYP. "She seemed open to listening to things, and I think that's the first step toward making change," Bergan said.

Spellings appears to be more conciliatory toward teachers' unions than her predecessor, Rod Paige, who once called the National Education Association (NEA) a "terrorist organization."

"She's certainly done a lot in public to indicate that she wants to listen to the concerns of teachers and educators," said Dan Kaufman, a spokesman for the NEA.

Kaufman said his organization has expressed interest in meeting with Spellings to discuss NCLB. "We haven't heard anything back yet, but we're still hopeful that she'll be willing to work with us," he said.

Despite some differences of opinion, Spellings and McElroy said they were eager to form a working partnership and further the progress of testing and accountability. McElroy praised the education secretary and said not many people at her level would sit before an audience of teachers to answer questions.

"The bottom line is that we're going to do what's best for kids," McElroy told the secretary, "and I know you're going to do what's best for kids."

Hope abounds surrounding NCLB
Stephen Winslow,
Augusta Free Press, 8/3/05
I was fully prepared to write about the recent lawsuit that the National Education Association has brought against the federal government for alleged funding improprieties. I planned to go into the educational funding crisis in the houses of state governments in
Kansas and Texas where state supreme courts have stepped in with their own demands. Then there is the Republican governor from Utah that decided, on his state's behalf, to pull out of No Child Left Behind.

Instead, I'm here to applaud Education Secretary Margaret Spellings for displaying an open mind and willingness to listen to ideas and possibilities surrounding changes to certain elements within the structure of NCLB. I champion her ability to see that there might be room for some changes in NCLB by recognizing that certain states that have gone will above and beyond simple Standards of Learning testing to assure educational success. If all goes well, states such as
Utah, Florida and Virginia, all of which provide strong examples of independent programs that have been extremely successful, could be given more flexibility by Spellings and the federal government.

In a potentially major policy shift, Spellings showed growing support Friday for letting states change how they score student progress.

Under the NCLB law, the measurement of a schools success is based on how their current students perform compared with last year's students on math and reading tests. Critics and state leaders say that system does not account for yearly changes in the student population and does not credit students who make big gains but fall short of school goals.

Spellings, addressing a gathering of the American Federation of Teachers, gave her strongest indication yet that she may embrace a "growth model" that is one that measures the academic growth of individual students during a given year and as they move forward. Spellings has appointed a group to study this model, and she told AFT members she is committed to working on it.

"We need to have an understanding of what we mean by that, and what the necessary conditions are," Spellings told reporters after her comments to the AFT. "And then, I'm hopeful that netting out of that conversation will be a way to allow people to get credit for the progress they've made." Most importantly, Spellings showed additional support by stating "I believe in that as a policy matter."

Some states are experimenting with such an idea, but a federal policy on the topic could trigger a broad shift in how progress is measured nationwide.

Asked whether such a change is likely to happen, she said: "I'm not going to handicap that yet, I don't know. I just put the people to work." The AFT feels that the current federal measure of progress doesn't measure progress at all. The issue is significant because schools that receive federal poverty aid but don't make "adequate yearly progress" for at least two straight years face mounting penalties.

Spellings said there will be no change in the requirement that states give math and reading tests to students in grades
three to eight yearly, and at least once in high school. Such testing, she said, must be the cornerstone of any effort to chart student progress.

Beyond the decision to look at possible changes in the assessment process is the encouraging sight of dialog between educators and the Department of Education. This nation has succeeded since its inception because of its ability to come to the table of compromise and use dialogue to advance innovative ideas. That is how we became a superpower. That is how we became a nation envied by the world. It is when we lose respect for such a process that we fail.

I applaud Secretary Spellings for taking a strong step toward dialogue and certainly hope and expect that she will be met at that table by a willing group of educational leaders that recognize the only way our children win is if we work together to address what's in the children's best interest.

Educational standards, accountability must be preserved
By Chris Braunlich, former member of the Fairfax County School Board and Vice President of the Thomas Jefferson Institute for Public Policy, Fauquier Times-Democrat, 8/02/05

No Child Left Behind is back in the news, as the federal Department of Education approved for
Virginia four requested waivers from the federal law and rejected four others.

Among the approved waivers are those allowing SOL test "retakes" to be used in determining whether a school or student made "Adequate Yearly Progress." Some of the rejected waivers, such as allowing the use of "other academic indicators" would have opened a huge loophole. Why other waivers, such as allowing the state to focus resources on failing students, were rejected is inexplicable.

In looking at those decisions, it's important to put aside Board of Education President Thomas Jackson's somewhat partisan attack on the feds during this
Virginia election year. And his charge that the feds are "dissing" Virginia by taking months to decide on the waivers, which is more likely a result of bureaucratic inertia, reminds those of us who served on local school boards how long it would often take the state to make decisions.

Instead, view the
Virginia dust-up in the context of a national debate that has devolved into a black-white conflict with no shades of gray: You're either for NCLB or against it, and both sides are rapidly digging in their heels.

The nation's largest teachers union, the National Education Association, has brought suit to throw out NCLB in court. The NEA doesn't object to federal education laws (it's never before seen a federal law it didn't love) -- it just doesn't like this federal law. As The New York Times noted in April, "The NEA has misrepresented the law to the public from the start."

The Bush administration isn't helping matters either. It's flatly refused to consider any course correction to the landmark education law, preferring instead to develop a patchwork of waivers.

But patchworks often don't hold. And while the administration and its allies are understandably concerned about the possibility of having the law gutted by those aiming to destroy educational standards, the risk is that intractability will lead to a discredited NCLB and ultimately to the implosion of educational standards throughout the country.

Virginia's Standards of Learning system went through the same "birthing pains." Eight years ago, the General Assembly and local school boards were filled with opponents of the SOLs. But because smart governors and state board members kept the SOLs stabilized with mid-course corrections, today the system thrives and has had a positive impact on student learning.

Herewith, then, are five proposed reforms for NCLB coming from education reformers aligned with the "conservative" side of the political spectrum, and who have been supporters of NCLB from the start. But they recognize that no federal law is perfect on the day it passes, and four years into the life of NCLB it is time to consider changes.

Redefine "failing" schools and "successful" schools. Under NCLB, schools missing any one of 29-35 benchmarks are treated the same as schools missing 20, creating too many "failing" schools. NCLB should create interim categories, so parents and educators have a better sense of where each school lies, and so that credibility of the law is retained.

Reverse the order in which supplemental educational services (SES) and public school choice must be provided. Currently, schools failing to make "Adequate Yearly Progress" two years in a row must offer students in those schools the option of attending another public school. At three years, students may seek publicly-financed private tutoring.

Given the fact that, in many districts, there are more SES providers than additional public schools, NCLB should provide private tutoring before public school choice. The U.S. Department of Education's failure to act on this requested waiver was one of the items that most angered
Jackson. And he's right. The feds should make the change now.

Consider mobility. Currently, a student's scores are counted in a school's scores even if that student only recently transferred to the school. In schools where mobility rates can soar as high as 35 percent, it is hardly fair to judge a school's performance in educating students who were actually educated in elsewhere. To be fully counted in the testing, a student should be enrolled at least 90 percent of the year; otherwise, his or her test scores should be pro-rated based on the time spent in the school.

Similarly, AYP calculations currently punish principals and schools attracting transfer students from low-performing schools under the public school choice provision -- students that likely will pull down the "successful" school's scores and putting that school, in turn, at risk of failing to achieve Adequate Yearly Progress. NCLB calculations should take these students into account -- either by not including them for the first year or so, or by considering their academic improvement.

Finally, any NCLB reform needs to move further toward creation of a "value-added assessment" model that would measure progress (see ). Incorporating such an assessment model will not only provide a better picture of which schools are doing their job, but also which teachers and which curricula are successful.

The New York Times said it best: "The No Child Left Behind law has been a success on many levels -- particularly in reorienting the thinking of the school districts that used to average out success by letting the stellar achievements of middle-class students wipe out failures on the bottom."

We cannot afford to go back to a time when poor students got lost in the shuffle.

No Child Left Behind has its faults, but neither the drumbeat of opposition nor a legislative "line in the sand" should be allowed to risk derailing the law, the principles of educational standards and accountability, and what they can do for children at risk.

Public Schools Begin to Offer Gym Classes Online
Sam Dillon,
New York Times, 8/2/05

MINNEAPOLIS - The nation's public schools are rushing to reconfigure scores of traditional courses from basic composition to calculus so students can take them via the Internet. One of the unlikely new offerings in this vast experiment is online gym.
Sound like an oxymoron? Not in
Minneapolis, where a physical education course joined the school district's growing online catalog in the spring and already has a waiting list.
"I've never seen a response like this to any course," said Frank Goodrich, a veteran football coach who is one of two instructors teaching online physical education this summer to about 60 high school students.
The course allows students to meet requirements by exercising how they want, when they want. They are required to work out hard for 30 minutes four times a week and report to their teachers by e-mail. Parents must certify that the students did the workouts.
One recent day, after Dustin McEvoy lifted weights, Sasha Hulsey swam in a lake and Marc Sylvestre played hockey, they sent in reports with details on their warm-ups, cool-downs and how fast their hearts had beat. Mr. Goodrich, reviewing their e-mail messages on his laptop the next morning, said that although most students were sticking to their required routines, a few slackers were headed toward F's.
Physical education is one of 27 online courses now offered by the Minneapolis Public Schools, which had none four years ago. Thousands of other districts nationwide are adding online courses, said Susan Patrick, director of educational technology at the federal Department of Education.
"We're seeing just tremendous growth," Ms. Patrick said, "in enrollments and in the kinds of courses offered."
In a survey, the department estimated that there were 328,000 student enrollments in online courses offered by public schools during the 2002-3 year. Ms. Patrick said enrollments had probably doubled since then.
Many districts, including
Minneapolis, are writing their own Internet courses, and more than a dozen states have established virtual schools to supply courses to brick-and-mortar schools. Some schools are buying online courses from commercial vendors, the survey showed.
Districts providing specialized courses - macroeconomics, say, or astrophysics - are choosing to offer the courses online instead of hiring on-site instructors to teach handfuls of students. Offering online versions of basic courses required for graduation is also a way to make room for electives in crowded classroom schedules.
Illinois Virtual School offers 90 online courses, including about 16 Advanced Placement offerings. One of the most popular online courses is consumer education, which teaches checkbook management. The course is required by the state for graduation, but many students have had trouble fitting it into their schedules, Matthew Wicks, the school's director, said.
Physical education is not the only course that seems an odd fit for Internet study. Take Advanced Placement biology. The College Board's recommended syllabus for the course includes 12 rigorous laboratory exercises, known among educators as the dirty dozen.
Virtual High School, a cooperative based in Massachusetts that offers online courses to more than 300 member schools in 28 states, offers an online Advanced Placement biology course that covers laboratory lessons through computer simulations, including a virtual dissection of a pig, said Liz Pape, who runs the school.
"It's so neat that you can learn everything you need to know about dissection without the formaldehyde smell," Ms. Pape said.
Still, some committed online educators remain unconvinced. Tim Snyder, the executive director of Colorado Online Learning, which offers more than 50 online courses to
Colorado schools, included physical education with studio art, marching band and the laboratory sciences as subjects best left to brick-and-mortar schools.
"These are still better experienced in a hands-on setting," Dr. Snyder said.
But online gym has prospered. That has been possible in part because physical education itself has evolved. Once a highly regimented class centered on team sports and competition, physical education now emphasizes healthy living and personal fitness, topics some see as eminently suited for independent Internet study.
One of the first schools to offer physical education online, in 1997, was
Florida Virtual School. It is now the nation's largest public online school, with 21,000 students taking at least one course. Personal fitness, the online version of the state's physical education requirement, was the school's most popular course last year, attracting 4,500 students. (Second-most popular was economics, with 2,400 students.)
Some students, including a blind teenager in Miami and a student in Melbourne, Fla., who was recovering from a kidney transplant, signed up because their health problems prevented their taking regular gym classes, said Jo Wagner, one of Florida Virtual's lead instructors. But Ms. Wagner said most students took the course to free their schedules for foreign languages and other electives at their traditional schools.
The same pattern holds in
Minneapolis, where Abbie Modaff, a sophomore, is taking her second semester of online gym this summer. The daughter of self-described "strugglingly middle-class" parents, she signed up last spring to open time in a schedule snarled with English, Latin, biology, world studies and advanced mathematics classes, not to mention horseback lessons, soccer games and concert band.
This summer, Abbie has been training for a triathlon, so she has e-mailed reports on swimming, biking and jogging workouts to her instructor, Tamara Cowan, who is teaching online gym to 31
Minneapolis students this summer from a friend's home in Sacramento.
"When I'm not feeling like I'm about to die, running can be incredibly good," Ms. Modaff wrote to Ms. Cowan in one workout journal in July.
Last spring, when Ms. Modaff sought to use her horseback rides to fulfill some workout requirements, Mr. Goodrich balked. But using a heart monitor, Ms. Modaff documented that her pulse frequently surged to a pounding 170 beats per minute as she flexed her legs and torso to guide her horse through a dressage course. Mr. Goodrich assented.
"She showed us that her heart rate was elevated, and her muscle strength was improving," he said.
Because the class has faced much questioning, the district issues heart monitors, requiring that students send pulse data to teachers and that parents sign the workout reports.
Mr. Goodrich and Ms. Cowan are also on the lookout for cheats. Mr. Goodrich recently sat on his couch in sweat pants and a T-shirt, and, peering into the screen of his Macintosh, signed on to the school district's Web site. He found 31 student e-mail messages documenting recent workouts. There was also a message from a student who pleaded the equivalent of "my dog ate my homework."
"I have just got back in town for three days and then I will be gone for three days," the student wrote to Mr. Goodrich. "I am trying to get as much work done as possible. Thanks."
Mr. Goodrich checked the student's preliminary grades and found she was hopelessly behind with her assignments. He would send her a warning, he said, and predicted she would fail the course.
About 20 percent of the students dropped out of online gym in the spring, said Jan Braaten, the district's lead physical education instructor.
"Even though we told them it would be as hard as or harder than traditional P.E., some thought it was going to be a cakewalk," Ms. Braaten said.
Even the course's author, Brenda Corbin, who writes curriculums for the
Minneapolis district, was dismissive at first.
"I refused to be a part of it," Ms. Corbin said of her initial reaction a year ago, when Ms. Braaten and district administrators approached her about writing the physical education course.
"How do you know they're really working out?" Ms. Corbin said she asked.
But she later changed her mind. "I was uninformed about what you can do over the computer," she said.
Renee Jesness, the district's online learning coordinator, said she frequently encountered skepticism about proposals to recast traditional courses for study online. But critics often reconsider when they learn how creative the online courses can be, Ms. Jesness said.
Even at a time of budget cuts, the
Minneapolis district is adding online courses about as fast as curriculum writers can create them, Ms. Jesness said.
"We're in think-tank mode, while the rest of public education is in triage," she said.


Hawaiian-only schools discriminatory, court says
Alexandre Da Silva, AP, 8/3/05
HONOLULU -- A federal appeals court Tuesday struck down the exclusive Kamehameha Schools' policy of admitting only Native Hawaiians, saying it amounts to unlawful racial discrimination.
Overturning a lower court decision, a panel of the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco ruled 2-1 that the practice at the private school violates federal civil rights law even though the institution receives no federal funding.
The case was brought by an unidentified non-Hawaiian student who was turned down for admission in 2003.
''I think it is a terrific decision,'' said John Goemans, an attorney for the boy. ''It is a very big event for Hawaiian history.''
The Kamehameha Schools were established under the 1883 will of a Hawaiian princess to educate ''the children of
The Kamehameha Schools had no immediate response to the ruling.

Feds should fund NCLB
Minus resources, call for high standards favors wealthy
Delmarva Daily Times Editorial, 8/4/05

The struggle to fill classrooms with teachers who are considered "highly qualified" under the federal No Child Left Behind act is one more example of why free-market forces don't mix well with unfunded government mandates.

No Child Left Behind is supposed to raise the caliber of public education for everyone in the country and encourage school boards to fill classrooms with the best available teachers, in addition to setting more uniform standards for student performance and achievement.

Part of that mission should also be to equalize the playing field and ensure that school districts possessing fewer resources are not placed at a disadvantage when recruiting teachers. Instead, the mandate minus funding to back it up adds to the difficulty some districts have attracting the best teachers.

Market forces are at work when supply migrates to where the demand is; in addition, prices rise when demand is high and supply is limited (too few qualified teachers), but fall when supply is more than adequate (more qualified teachers than open positions). That's fine in a competitive marketplace, when customers are vying to purchase goods or private companies are striving to hire the best candidates.

Although the teacher hiring process operates on a competitive basis, unlike corporate
America it has artificial constraints placed on it by NCLB and other legislative acts.

An unintended consequence of NCLB mixing with a competitive job market for educators is that once again, less-wealthy school districts lose traction because they are not able to compete with well-financed districts that simply up the ante and offer top teacher candidates the best compensation and signing bonuses.

NCLB, without funding to back up its requirement that only "highly qualified" teachers be hired, creates a situation where the schools that need those "highly qualified" teachers the most are least able to offer attractive salaries that will entice the best new educators to their districts.

Lower Shore school districts still have a few openings to fill before opening day, but the situation is far from desperate this year. While NCLB is certainly not to blame for a teacher shortage nationwide, nor is it responsible for Maryland's failure to produce enough new teacher candidates through its education programs in state and private universities, the landmark federal education act has done virtually nothing to assist the state's public school districts attract the best and brightest available teachers to its classrooms.

NCLB could be instrumental in raising standards in every classroom in the country and back up its standards of excellence in educators with money to help equalize playing field for the teacher recruitment process. Instead, it is contributing to the problem by giving wealthy districts increased incentive to lure the best educators to their classrooms and making it more difficult for poor, rural districts to compete.

It's an unintended consequence, and it's wrong because it goes against the spirit of the law, which should be to help create equal educational opportunity for all public school students in the country.


Bush backs instruction in evolution, intelligent design
By Ron Hutcheson & Diane Carroll, Knight Ridder Newspapers, The
Kansas City Star, 8/2/05

WASHINGTON — President Bush waded into the debate over evolution and intelligent design Monday, saying schools should teach both theories on the creation and complexity of life.

The president’s comments came as the Kansas Board of Education moved closer to approving new science standards that call for students to hear more criticism about evolution. The standards do not call for the teaching of intelligent design.

In a question-and-answer session with a small group of reporters, Bush essentially endorsed efforts by Christian conservatives to give intelligent design equal standing with the theory of evolution in the nation’s schools.

Bush declined to state his personal views on intelligent design, the belief that life forms are so complex that their creation can’t be explained by Darwinian evolutionary theory alone but rather points to intentional creation, presumably divine.

The theory of evolution, first articulated by British naturalist Charles Darwin in 1859, is based on the idea that life organisms developed over time through random mutations and factors in nature that favored certain traits that helped species survive.

Scientists concede that evolution does not answer every question about the creation of life, but most consider the push to add instruction on intelligent design in public schools an attempt to inject religion into science courses.

Bush compared the current debate to earlier disputes over “creationism,” a related view that adheres more closely to biblical explanations. As
Texas governor, Bush said students should be exposed to both creationism and evolution.

On Monday the president said he favored the same approach for intelligent design “so people can understand what the debate is about.”

“I think that part of education is to expose people to different schools of thought,” he said. “You’re asking me whether or not people ought to be exposed to different ideas. The answer is yes.”

The six conservatives on the 10-member Kansas Board of Education are supporting a draft of the science standards that calls for more criticism of evolution. The draft does not go so far as to call for the teaching of intelligent design.

Board Chairman Steve Abrams, who supports the proposed draft, said Monday that he supported “good science” and that he backed intelligent design to the extent that it met the requirements of what constituted good science. But he said more research needed to determine whether intelligent design should be inserted into the curriculum.

“I hate to disagree with the president, but at this point in time I am not in favor of actually inserting intelligent design into the standards,” said Abrams, of
Arkansas City. “I think it’s important for students to be able to critically analyze evolution, but to actually insert intelligent design into it — I’m not much in favor of inserting intelligent design.

“I still go back to what is science. … It needs to meet the criteria of good science.”

Board member Sue Gamble of
Shawnee, who opposes the proposed standards, said she could agree with the president if intelligent design were a scientific theory. Unfortunately, she said, it is not.

Intelligent design should not be a part of science curriculum for kindergarten through 12th grade, she said, because “there is nothing to teach children about it in terms of basic science. I find it so unfortunate that political leaders are becoming embroiled in this, when frankly they are not qualified to have an opinion.”

Gamble said she did not oppose the teaching of the origin of life in a high school history or comparative religion class but said it did not belong in a science class.

The National Academy of Sciences and the American Association for the Advancement of Science have concluded that there is no scientific basis for intelligent design and oppose its inclusion in school science classes.

Some scientists have declined to join the debate, fearing that amplifying the discussion only gives intelligent design more legitimacy.

But advocates of intelligent design also claim support from scientists. The Discovery Institute, a conservative think tank in
Seattle that is the leading proponent for intelligent design, said it had compiled a list of more than 400 scientists, including 70 biologists, who are skeptical about evolution.

“The fact is that a significant number of scientists are extremely skeptical that Darwinian evolution can explain the origins of life,” John West, associate director of the organization’s Center for Science and Culture, said in a news release.

Special-Ed Racial Imbalance Spurs Sanctions
Number of Black Students in
Montgomery, Arundel Programs Seen as Too High
By Daniel de Vise, Washington Post Staff Writer,

Blacks make up one-fifth of the student population in both
Montgomery and Anne Arundel county public schools. But they make up two-fifths of the group labeled mentally retarded.

The two
Maryland school systems are among five that face state sanctions because they steer too many struggling black students into special education with problems that, in a number of cases, could be addressed in a regular classroom, according to federal education officials. Starting this summer, the systems must spend a combined $8 million a year on efforts to reduce the number of black students in special-ed.

Young black students with academic or behavioral problems tend to wind up in special education, educators say, based on a teacher's impulse to place such children where they will get the most help. Special-ed classes are staffed at a far lower student-to-teacher ratio than regular classes.

But some black parents and others have accused school systems across the country of using special education, a federally subsidized program tailored for children with documented disabilities, as a dumping ground for disruptive black children. The Education Department found that, in 2003, although about 15 percent of all students ages 6 to 21 were black, they made up 20 percent of all special-education students and 34 percent of those labeled mentally retarded in that age range.

Black parents picketed the
Montgomery school board in March, alleging the school system placed too many black students in special education and too few in magnet programs. NAACP leaders noted a similar pattern in Anne Arundel last year. A change in federal law effective July 1 calls for action. In Maryland, school systems in Anne Arundel, Calvert, Harford, Montgomery and St. Mary's counties must begin spending 15 percent of their federal special-education dollars on remedial programs.

"They have to do this. They don't have any wiggle room," said Carol Ann Baglin, an assistant superintendent of
Maryland schools. "It's a good way to try to intervene and divert some students from special education."

The Virginia Department of Education has a similar initiative affecting as many as 30 of the state's 132 school systems, said H. Douglas Cox, assistant superintendent for special education and student services.
Virginia officials declined to release details, saying the analysis of data is not finished.

The federal Individuals With Disabilities Education Act, first passed in 1997, "really was meant to reduce the number of kids going into special education," Baglin said. "But because we have extra money going into special education, you end up sending kids who have problems into special education because then they can get extra support."

The five counties were cited because black students were overrepresented in three areas of special education: first, the counties had a disproportionate share of black students in special-education as a whole; second, blacks were disproportionately likely to be placed in separate special-ed classrooms rather than "mainstreamed" with the general student population; and third, blacks in special education were particularly likely to be suspended.

Eighteen of the 24 school systems in
Maryland had "significantly disproportional" shares of blacks in at least one of the three areas, according to state data.

Blacks make up 22 percent of the student population in
Montgomery County. But they make up 42 percent of the population considered mentally retarded and 36 percent of special-ed students taught in separate classes, and blacks account for 52 percent of suspensions among students with disabilities, according to enrollment counts taken in October.

The Anne Arundel school system is 21 percent black. But in that system, blacks make up 43 percent of students who are considered mentally retarded, 36 percent of the special-ed population taught in separate classes and 41 percent of suspensions.

Diane Black, director of special education in Anne Arundel, said she was aware of the disparity and is working to correct it. Part of the problem, she said, is that special education is so generously funded that teachers in regular classrooms have come to think of it as a safety net for all manner of academic and behavioral malaise.

Teachers who refer students to special education "are doing it to be proactive and attempting to get services and support for the student," Black said. "They're not doing it to punish kids. They're doing it to get the help they think is needed."

Under the revamped federal law, each of the five school systems must now devote 15 percent of its federal special-education funds -- $3.9 million in Montgomery, $2.1 million in Anne Arundel, $1.1 million in Harford, $442,000 in St. Mary's and $426,000 in Calvert -- to intervention programs, with a special focus on students in kindergarten through grade 3 who are at risk of being put in special education.

Calvert County, students lagging in reading skills will get 30 minutes daily of special literacy help for 100 school days. Only then, Welsh said, will teachers consider placing the child in special education.

Anne Arundel has a similar intervention program in place, devoting at least 100 hours of special instruction to students struggling in reading in the second and third grades, Black said.

Black expects the next state analysis, a year from now, to show fewer black students in special education: "I'm quite confident that . . . we're going to have quite different numbers."

Cobb school board pulls plug on laptops
Atlanta Journal-Constitution, 8/1/05

Cobb County school board members will no longer try to equip its students with laptop computers, agreeing in spirit with a Superior Court judge's order to immediately halt the groundbreaking program.

Board Chairwoman Kathie Johnstone made the announcement late Monday after board members met with attorneys for two hours and 15 minutes. She said the board came to a unanimous consensus, realizing Cobb's controversial program "is no longer an option." The decision could close a rift that has roiled the community for months.
Opponents of the plan, including many parents and teachers, had questioned whether it was proven and worth the cost. Judge S. Lark Ingram recently halted the program because the school system did not tell voters a special sales tax would be used to pay for it.

Despite bringing an end to the initiative, Johnstone said the board could still decide to appeal the court decision "because of the significance of the case and its potential impact."

Johnstone added the board will decide whether to appeal on or before Aug. 28, it's 30-day deadline.

The board's decision to consider an appeal disappointed parent Kathy Angelucci, a vocal critic of the laptop program.

"I'd like to get past this turmoil. I'd like the county to start fresh," Angelucci said. "I hope they don't appeal."

Board members last April approved the $25 million first phase of the program, which included plans to equip all 7,100 Cobb teachers with laptops as well as students at four "pilot" high schools.

The judge's decision will allow the distribution of laptops to teachers to proceed because school officials had already promised them a "computing device" in the materials they distributed before the sales tax passed in 2003.

At that time, school officials also promised to "refresh obsolete [computer} workstations" for students.

Only later did officials come up with a more dramatic plan that eventually could have provided 63,000 Apple iBook laptops to all teachers and all students in grades six through 12.

System spokesman Jay Dillon said officials will begin to work on a new plan, "even if the board decides to appeal." That work will include looking at schools' current technology needs.

Part of the plan is expected to include acquiring fewer laptops and putting them on carts to wheel to different classrooms as needed. Such "laptop carts" are used in elementary schools now.

Cobb County Association of Educators President Gaye Shin said teachers would be fine with that.

Former Cobb County Commissioner Butch Thompson sued to stop Cobb from giving its students laptops more than two months ago. He and his attorney, former Gov. Roy Barnes, called it a "bait and switch" by the school system, one that crossed the line of voter trust. "Refreshing" computer workstations, Barnes said, "cannot be reasonably interpreted" to mean take-home laptops.

Ingram agreed, drawing heavily on a state Supreme Court decision that held that county leaders had to stick with what they promised in a special sales tax referendum "unless circumstances arise which dictate that projects which initially seemed feasible are no longer so."

However, Tain Kell, the attorney that argued the case for Cobb, indicated Friday he thinks Ingram erred. He argued there was a more relevant state Supreme Court decision that held school leaders could change promised plans provided the referendum language did not specify what those plans were.

That was the case in Cobb: The language in the referendum did not spell out how funds for technology would be spent; the material school officials distributed was supplemental.

That analysis is likely being made to the board, as is a reminder from Kell the ruling could have statewide ramifications as other boards pursue sales tax money to pay for their own construction and technology needs.

The laptop ruling is the second high-profile case in less than a year lost by Cobb. A federal judge in January ordered the removal of evolution disclaimers from system textbooks because they conveyed an unconstitutional endorsement of religion.

Cobb is appealing the ruling, but faces a request to pay opposing attorneys about $135,000 in legal fees. That's on top of roughly $74,000 charged by its own attorneys. Dillon on Monday could not say how much the laptop case has cost.

Separate investigations requested by the board into the bidding process for the laptop program are continuing, based on witness testimony that a school system employee hinted before final bids were in that leaders wanted Apple Computer as their supplier.

Some teachers received laptops in May. For legal reasons, however, the system is not placing orders for laptops to equip the rest of its teachers until the investigations are complete.

The district had not provided laptops to any students.

Pittsburgh district's choice for superintendent illustrates trend

PITTSBURGH --When the city school board hired a former Massachusetts legislator to lead the district, it joined a growing group of urban districts that have hired nontraditional superintendents.

About a dozen school districts around the nation -- including those in
Philadelphia, New York City and Baltimore -- have hired superintendents with backgrounds in business, the military or public policy, rather than strictly education.

Many of those districts have been happy with their decisions, seeing higher test scores and better community participation, and that's encouraged other districts to follow their lead, said Henry Duvall, a spokesman for the Council of Great City Schools in
Washington, D.C.

"In general, it has been a positive experience," Duvall told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette for its Sunday edition.

In the case of
Pittsburgh's school district, the school board last week approved the hiring of Mark Roosevelt, who's never led a school district or even a school.

Roosevelt, 49, is the former director of the Massachusetts Business Alliance for Education. He has never worked as a superintendent or held a teaching position but completed a 10-month training program for urban superintendents run by the Broad Foundation in Los Angeles.

If contract negotiations between
Roosevelt and the district are successful, he will start his job on Aug. 15. Roosevelt served in the Massachusetts House from 1986 to 1994, representing Boston, and lost a 1994 gubernatorial bid to unseat Republican William F. Weld.

Nontraditional superintendents often succeed because of their lack of experience in the education system, said Tim Quinn, director of the Broad Foundation's program -- the
Broad Urban Superintendents Academy.

"From their perspective, there isn't anything that can't be done, and they see everything from a fresh set of eyes," Quinn said. "They often say, 'This doesn't make any sense -- why would we continue doing all these things that don't work? We need to change strategy.'"

One of the first successful nontraditional superintendents was retired Army major general John Stanford, who was hired by the
Seattle school district in July 1995.

Stanford proposed tougher academic standards, ended social promotion and started a "reading offensive" that encouraged the community to donate thousands of books to schools.

The district's test scores rose and continued to do so after Stanford's death from leukemia in November 1998.

"If you talk to people today, they just genuflect when they hear his name," Quinn said.

Chicago Mayor Richard M. Daley in 1995 appointed Paul Vallas, the city's former budget director, to lead the city's district of 400,000 students.

Vallas created a five-year balanced budget plan, raised academic standards, expanded after-school programs and built dozens of new schools. Math and reading scores rose, but leveled off near the end of Vallas' tenure, which ended in 1999.

He is now the chief executive officer of the
School District of Philadelphia, where he has made reforms that helped boost the number of schools meeting state math and reading standards from 22 schools to 160 schools last year.

"You don't have three years of that level of growth without doing something right," he said.

Bible Course Becomes a Test for Public Schools in Texas
By Ralph Blumenthal & Barbara Novovitch,
New York Times, 8/1/04

HOUSTON - When the school board in Odessa, the West Texas oil town, voted unanimously in April to add an elective Bible study course to the 2006 high school curriculum, some parents dropped to their knees in prayerful thanks that God would be returned to the classroom, while others assailed it as an effort to instill religious training in the public schools.

Hundreds of miles away, leaders of the National Council on Bible Curriculum in Public Schools notched another victory. A religious advocacy group based in
Greensboro, N.C., the council has been pressing a 12-year campaign to get school boards across the country to accept its Bible curriculum.

The council calls its course a nonsectarian historical and literary survey class within constitutional guidelines requiring the separation of church and state.

But a growing chorus of critics says the course, taught by local teachers trained by the council, conceals a religious agenda. The critics say it ignores evolution in favor of creationism and gives credence to dubious assertions that the Constitution is based on the Scriptures, and that "documented research through NASA" backs the biblical account of the sun standing still.

In the latest salvo, the Texas Freedom Network, an advocacy group for religious freedom, has called a news conference for Monday to release a study that finds the national council's course to be "an error-riddled Bible curriculum that attempts to persuade students and teachers to adopt views that are held primarily within conservative Protestant circles."

The dispute has made the curriculum, which the national council says is used by more than 175,000 students in 312 school districts in 37 states, the latest flashpoint in the continuing culture wars over religious influences in the public domain.

The national council says its course is the only one offered nationwide. Another organization, the Bible Literacy Project, supported by a broad range of religious groups, expects to release its own textbook in September.

According to Charles Haynes of the Freedom Forum, which published "The Bible and Public Schools: A First Amendment Guide" five years ago, "The distinction is between teaching the Bible and teaching about the Bible - it has to be taught academically, not devotionally."

The National Council on Bible Curriculum in Public Schools says its course "is concerned with education rather than indoctrination of students."

"The central approach of the class is simply to study the Bible as a foundation document of society, and that approach is altogether appropriate in a comprehensive program of secular education," it says.

Elizabeth Ridenour, a commercial real estate broker who said she formed the nonprofit organization in 1993 after deciding that she had long been "duped" into believing the Bible could not be taught in public schools, said the course has stayed within legal limits. "Our teachers are not to say, 'This is the truth,' or that the Bible is infallible," she said. "They are to say, 'This is what the Bible says; draw your own conclusions.' "

But in
Odessa, where the school board has not decided on a curriculum, a parent said he found the course's syllabus unacceptably sectarian. He has been waging his own campaign for additional information on where it is being taught.

"Someone is being disingenuous; I'd like to know who," said the parent, David Newman, an associate professor of English at Odessa College who has made a page-by-page analysis of the 270-page syllabus and sent e-mail messages to nearly all 1,034 school districts in Texas.

The Texas Freedom Network, which commissioned its study after the vote in
Odessa, is sharp in its criticism. "As many as 52 Texas public school districts and 1,000 high schools across the country are using an aggressively marketed, blatantly sectarian Bible curriculum that interferes with the freedom of all families to pass on their own religious values to their children," it said.

In one teaching unit, students are told, "Throughout most of the last 2,000 years, the majority of men living in the Western world have accepted the statements of the Scriptures as genuine." The words are taken from the Web site of
Grant R. Jeffrey Ministries' Prophecy on Line.

The national council's efforts are endorsed by the Center for Reclaiming America, Phyllis Schlafly's group the Eagle Forum, Concerned Women for
America and the Family Research Council, among others.

But Americans United for Separation of Church and State and other groups have warned school districts against using the curriculum because of constitutional concerns.

Mike Johnson, a lawyer for the national council, cited a 1999 legal opinion by four lawyers calling the course permissible under constitutional guidelines.

Apart from a showcase school in
Brady, Tex., the national council does not disclose the schools using its course because it wants to spare them the disruption of news media inquiries, Ms. Ridenour said.
Only a summary of the course is available on the Internet, and printed copies cost $150.

A highly critical article in The Journal of Law and Education in 2003 said the course "suffers from a number of constitutional infirmities" and "fails to present the Bible in the objective manner required."

The journal said that even supplementary materials were heavily slanted toward sectarian organizations; 83 percent of the books and articles recommended had strong ties to sectarian organizations, 60 percent had ties to Protestant organizations, and 53 percent had ties to conservative Protestant organizations, it said.

Among those included are books by David Barton, on the council's advisory board and the vice chairman of the Texas Republican Party, who favors "biblical inerrancy," said William Martin, a Rice University historian and the author of the book "With God on Our Side: The Rise of the Religious Right in America."

Ms. Ridenour said the course was revised six months ago. But the freedom network's study concludes that the curriculum's section on science teaches creationism with no mention of evolution.

The course's broad statements about the Bible being the blueprint for the nation are askew, said Mr. Haynes of the Freedom Forum, part of a nonpartisan ecumenical group promoting the Bible Literacy Project textbook. "If the Bible is a blueprint for the Constitution," he said, "I guess they haven't read it," referring to the Constitution.

Some of the claims made in the national council's curriculum are laughable, said Mark A. Chancey, professor of religious studies at Southern Methodist University in
Dallas, who spent seven weeks studying the syllabus for the freedom network. Mr. Chancey said he found it "riddled with errors" of facts, dates, definitions and incorrect spellings. It cites supposed NASA findings to suggest that the earth stopped twice in its orbit, in support of the literal truth of the biblical text that the sun stood still in Joshua and II Kings.

"When the type of urban legend that normally circulates by e-mail ends up in a textbook, that's a problem," Mr. Chancey said.

Tracey Kiesling, the national council's national teacher trainer, said the course offered "scientific documentation" on the flood and cites as a scientific authority Carl Baugh, described by Mrs. Kiesling as "an internationally known creation scientist who founded the
Creation Evidence Museum in Glen Rose, Tex."

The battle of the Bible course is not over in Odessa, where John Waggoner, a real estate appraiser, presented petitions with 6,000 signatures in support of the Bible class - many of them on printed forms of the National Council on Bible Curriculum in Public Schools - to the school board of Ector County at its April meeting.

The assistant superintendent, Raymond Starnes, said he wanted to examine the Bible Literacy Project's textbook before recommending one for the 2006 school year.

When Teachers Don't Make the Grade
Governor says his plan will streamline the rules for getting rid of poor educators.
Critics say the proposition won't work and might backfire.
By Duke Helfand and Joel Rubin,
Los Angeles Times Staff Writers, 7/31/05

Principal Faye Banton can walk through the classrooms of
Edison Middle School in South Los Angeles and quickly identify her weakest teachers. But Banton knows she can't dismiss them without a drawn-out fight.

"It takes much too long to get rid of them," she said. "There is a real need for change."
Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger believes he has the solution: a voter initiative that would extend the probationary period for new teachers and change the rules for firing veterans who perform poorly.

But critics, including the state's association of school boards, say the governor has missed the mark. The initiative would not achieve his popular goal and might, in fact, make removing problem teachers harder, they say.

Schwarzenegger, whose initiative will appear on the state ballot in a Nov. 8 special election, says the issue is simple.

"If you have someone who does not perform well in any job … you are able to get rid of that person. And we cannot do that" with teachers, he said.

Large numbers of government employees and workers in many unionized businesses share job protections similar to those of teachers. Unlike college and university professors, public school teachers do not receive lifetime tenure.

But the idea of reducing teachers' job protections is popular with many principals and parents concerned about the difficulty of removing poor-performing instructors. A Field Poll last month found broad support for the teacher measure among registered voters, with 59% supporting it and 35% opposed.

Under state law, school districts can dismiss teachers during their first two years on the job without providing any reason. After two years in the classroom, teachers earn the more protective "permanent status." Before dismissing a permanent-status teacher, district officials must meticulously document poor performance over time, formally declare the intention to dismiss the teacher and then give the instructor 90 days to improve.

Schwarzenegger's measure — known as the Put the Kids First Act — would authorize school districts to dismiss teachers summarily during the first five years.

The initiative also would simplify the process for dismissing teachers with permanent status, allowing district officials to fire a teacher after two consecutive unsatisfactory evaluations without declaring their intentions in advance or waiting 90 days.

Dismissed teachers would still be entitled to a hearing before an administrative judge and two credentialed teachers from outside their district. State law empowers such panels to uphold or overturn teacher dismissals.

The struggle to remove underperforming teachers is a familiar frustration in
California school systems. Schools often provide extra training and mentoring for teachers who receive unsatisfactory evaluations in an effort to help them improve and stay on the job.

But rather than hassle with dismissing a teacher, which can consume hundreds of hours, some administrators shuffle problem instructors from school to school in a practice known to school officials as the "dance of the lemons."

Los Angeles Unified School District has attempted to dismiss just 112 permanent teachers — or about one-quarter of 1% of the district's 43,000 instructors — over the last decade. Some were fired, but most resigned or retired.

"It takes two to three years to effectively remove someone who is not helpful to children in the classroom,"
Los Angeles schools Supt. Roy Romer said. "That's too long."

Banton, the
Edison principal, agrees. The current evaluation system rarely results in the removal of a teacher from the classroom, she said.

"If there is a problem with a teacher, you need to get on it right away," Banton said. "I have a few teachers who shouldn't be in the classroom because someone else before me didn't do what needed to be done."

However, critics of Schwarzenegger's plan say it would not fix the problem.

Leaders of the California School Boards Assn. and other state education groups say the wording of the initiative could backfire because it requires two back-to-back negative evaluations. A marginal teacher could remain in the classroom for years by occasionally earning satisfactory evaluations, they say.

Schwarzenegger's aides disagree. They say the initiative would augment the existing dismissal system, giving school districts another tool to deal with underperforming teachers.

Critics also say the idea of lengthening a teacher's probationary period from two years to five ignores a far more serious problem: Many qualified teachers quit early in their careers, particularly in urban districts, including
Los Angeles. About one-third of the teachers hired by the Los Angeles Unified School District in the 1998-99 school year left within five years, according to the district's most recent figures.
"If this is [Schwarzenegger's] education cornerstone, then he has failed," said state Supt. of Public Instruction Jack O'Connell, who signed the ballot argument against the initiative. "It shows the total absence of any thought of a comprehensive plan for education."

Some rank-and-file teachers say they recognize the need to simplify the dismissal rules for problem teachers, whom one instructor labeled "lost causes." But many teachers worry about losing legal protections that insulate them against the whims of principals.

"Yes, we need reform, but it doesn't sound like the governor has a good way to do it," said math teacher Carol Silva, who has spent 23 years at
Garfield High School in East Los Angeles. "I would like to see the procedures streamlined for people who will not change. But to just have two warnings and you're out, I don't like that. It could make it very arbitrary."

Art teacher Lisa Kantor bristled at the governor's call to extend the probationary period. As a probationary teacher, Kantor said, she is careful not to offend her principal at Hollywood High or anyone else on campus. Making the probationary status five years, she said, would only increase that sense of insecurity.

"You feel extremely vulnerable," said Kantor, 35. "You know to a certain degree that you're disposable. So you don't speak up at staff meetings, you don't get political, and you mind your Ps and Qs."

Schwarzenegger remains adamant about the five-year probation period.

"Two years is not enough time" for teachers to prove themselves, he said. "Let's give the teacher a chance in five years to really make it … and then have that job security for life."

The state's powerful teachers unions have temporarily increased dues to raise millions of dollars to fight Schwarzenegger's initiative and others on the November ballot that could slash education funding and curb union fundraising.

They call the teacher employment initiative an attack by Schwarzenegger on public education.

"Gov. Schwarzenegger is trying to destroy public schools and teachers," said California Teachers Assn. President Barbara Kerr. The initiative is "not going to improve achievement, not going to lower class sizes, not going to put more textbooks and materials into the classroom. It's going to hurt our students."

Both of the state's teachers unions — the teachers association and the California Federation of Teachers — have joined unions representing firefighters and other groups in mounting a television advertising campaign condemning Schwarzenegger for fostering a "phenomenon of anger" against teachers and other public employees.

It is a fight with national ramifications, as union leaders in
Washington, D.C., warily eye California, fearful that Schwarzenegger's initiative could spread.

Officials from the National Education Assn. and the American Federation of Teachers said they were planning to channel money and other resources into California in the months leading up to the November election.

California is an important state," said Edward J. McElroy, president of the teachers federation. "When things happen there, they have a tendency to echo in other places. Anyone who has an interest in hiring and retaining good teachers … will look at this as harmful."

Changing the personnel rules for teachers was not part of Schwarzenegger's original education agenda.

Instead, earlier this year, the governor promoted merit pay for teachers. His administration scrapped a proposal on that subject after learning it would have inadvertently prevented schools from firing teachers who commit criminal acts and engage in other misconduct, educators said.

And so the governor went looking for another education measure to put on the November ballot. He seized on a plan, aimed at changing hiring and firing practices, that was circulating through
Sacramento, aides said.

Critics in
Sacramento believe the governor was driven by a desire to divert attention away from another initiative on the November ballot that would reduce funding for schools. But Schwarzenegger's aides said the governor was motivated only by a desire to fix a system that in his view protects inferior teachers at the expense of schoolchildren.

"The governor believes that the overwhelming majority of all of
California's public school teachers are highly skilled and dedicated public servants," said Todd Harris, one of the governor's political consultants.

"At the same time, everyone knows that there is a small percentage of teachers who frankly don't belong in the classroom," he said. "It's as simple as that."


Teacher reprimanded for licking wounds

BEND, Ore. - A state board voted to publicly reprimand a Central Linn High School teacher and football coach for licking the bleeding wounds of several student athletes.

The Oregon Teacher Standards and Practices Commission Wednesday placed Scott Reed on two years' probation.

Details of the case and censure will go on the commission Web site and be sent to all
Oregon school districts and to departments of education nationwide.

Reed must attend a class on the risks of blood-borne pathogens within the next two months and furnish the commission with written verification of his attendance.

Reed agreed to "stipulated facts" that included him licking blood from wounds on a track team member's knee, a football player's arm, and a high school student's hand.

It was not clear why he licked the wounds.

The Linn County Sheriff's Office investigated the case last year. No charges were filed. Sheriff Dave Burright called the behavior "bizarre" but not criminal, since the contact wasn't forced.

Two students who reported licking incidents and another who witnessed an incident said it seemed that Reed was "just joking around."

Reed, a science teacher, resigned this spring as a track coach but remains the school's dean of students and head football coach.

The state sanctions virtually duplicated those imposed by the school district.


Fast-food franchisers show doing homework does pay
By JoAnne Viviano, Associated Press,

GENOA TOWNSHIP, Mich. -- Students working at some McDonald's restaurants around the country are getting paid whether they are flipping burgers or flipping through textbooks.

At Kathy and Jerry Olinik's two restaurants about 55 miles west of Detroit, high school and college students will be allowed to stay on the clock for an extra hour before or after their shifts this fall, as long as they spend the time doing schoolwork.

"Kids are our future. Anything we can do to support that is the responsible thing to do," Jerry Olinik said.

It is an idea catching on around the nation.

A McDonald's franchise owner in
Wisconsin lets students stay on the clock to participate in a study group. Owners in North Carolina and Virginia allow employees to take English language classes as part of their shifts.

Burger King spokeswoman Laina Kawass said she has heard of franchise owners who make sure students finish their homework before their shifts.

Sarah Hocking, 17, works about 10 hours a week during the school year at one of the Oliniks' restaurants. She said she plans to take advantage of the program to do her homework.

"I think it's a good idea," she said. "Some kids don't want to do homework, so maybe this will motivate them to get it done."

Ellen Galinsky, president of the non-profit Families and Work Institute, said programs that pay students for homework offer an obvious benefit to students, but also could help employers recruit and retain good employees.

"The most important thing to people's earning power and success in life has to do with their education," she said. "This is helping the future--the next generation of the workforce--succeed."

About 1 out of 4 high school freshmen and 3 out of 4 high school seniors work during the school year, according to a 1997-2003 survey sponsored by the Labor Department. About 24 percent of working freshmen and 56 percent of working seniors average 21 or more hours per week.

In a 2000 study by the Families and Work Institute, 38 percent of students employed during the school year said that working harmed their school performance.

Leading Republican differs with Bush on evolution
By Jon Hurdle, Reuters,

PHILADELPHIA - A leading Republican senator allied with the religious right differed on Thursday with President Bush's support for teaching an alternative to the theory of evolution known as "intelligent design."

Republican Sen. Rick Santorum, a possible 2008 presidential contender who faces a tough re-election fight next year in
Pennsylvania, said intelligent design, which is backed by many religious conservatives, lacked scientific credibility and should not be taught in science classes.

Bush told reporters from
Texas on Monday that "both sides" in the debate over intelligent design and evolution should be taught in schools "so people can understand what the debate is about."

"I think I would probably tailor that a little more than what the president has suggested," Santorum, the third-ranking Republican member of the U.S. Senate, told National Public Radio. "I'm not comfortable with intelligent design being taught in the science classroom."

Evangelical Christians have launched campaigns in at least 18 states to make public schools teach intelligent design alongside Charles Darwin's theory of evolution.

Proponents of intelligent design argue that nature is so complex that it could not have occurred by random natural selection, as held by
Darwin's 1859 theory of evolution, and so must be the work of an unnamed "intelligent cause."

Santorum is the third-ranking member of the U.S. Senate and has championed causes of the religious right including opposition to gay marriage and abortion.

He is expected to face a stiff challenge from Democrat Bob Casey in his quest for re-election next year in
Pennsylvania, a major battleground state in recent presidential elections.

The controversy over intelligent design is a hot topic in
Pennsylvania, where the Dover Area School District in south central Pennsylvania has included the theory in its biology curriculum.

The American Civil Liberties Union has sued to block the policy, calling it a violation of the constitutional separation of church and state.

Most Americans believe that God created human beings or guided the process of evolution, according to a CBS poll last November. Two-thirds said they wanted creationism taught alongside evolution in schools.


Critics, including many science teachers, say intelligent design cannot be scientifically tested and has no place in a science curriculum.

Santorum sided in part with intelligent-design proponents in saying that there were gaps in the theory of evolution.

"What we should be teaching are the problems and holes -- and I think there are legitimate problems and holes -- in the theory of evolution. What we need to do is to present those fairly, from a scientific point of view," he said in the interview.

"As far as intelligent design is concerned, I really don't believe it has risen to the level of a scientific theory at this point that we would want to teach it alongside of evolution."

Santorum had proposed an unsuccessful measure in 2001 that would have required discussing the "controversy" of evolution when the theory is taught in classes.

Bush's science adviser, John Marburger, was quoted in The New York Times this week as saying intelligent design was not a scientific concept, and that Bush's remarks should be interpreted to mean he thinks the concept should be taught as part of the "social context" in science classes.

Education chief defends No Child law
Countering act's critics, Spellings calls it successful and affordable
By LIZ AUSTIN, Associated Press, 8/4/05

GRAPEVINE - Calling the federal No Child Left Behind Act "good policy and good politics," U.S. Education Secretary Margaret Spellings defended the landmark education law Thursday.
The 3-year-old law has faced increasingly strident opposition among states that complain the federal government is encroaching on their right to educate children as they see fit.

Spellings said No Child Left Behind is a partnership, not a mandate, and she reiterated her pledge to address states' concerns about testing special education students and those who speak limited English.

"I know as well as you do that the hard work of educating our children doesn't happen in Washington, D.C.," Spellings told hundreds of people at a meeting of the American Legislative Exchange Council, a right-leaning group of state lawmakers and business leaders.

Responding to charges that states can't afford to implement the law's provisions, Spellings cited two Government Accountability Office studies — one in 2004 that found No Child Left Behind is not an unfunded mandate and another in 2003 that concluded Congress was providing more than enough money for states to design and use statewide achievement tests.

Opposing arguments

Spellings also said big gains on the 2004 National Assessment of Educational Progress show the law is working. The nation's 9-year-olds posted their best reading and math scores in more than 30 years on the test, sometimes referred to as the nation's report card.

"The law is good policy and good politics because the American people see education as a value, not an issue," she said. " ... That's why the majority of adults in our country say that a high-quality public education system is the No. 1 factor in our country's global success."

Several states are openly defying parts of No Child Left Behind, while others have launched legislative or legal attacks.
Utah passed a law this spring that lets education officials ignore provisions of the federal law that conflict with the state's education standards.

"The federal government should not be dictating 100 percent of the state's policy just because they are providing 7 percent of the funding," said
Utah state Rep. Margaret Dayton, a Republican who led her state's fight against No Child Left Behind and attended Spellings' speech Thursday.

Debating modifications

Spellings said she is listening to the states' complaints and is willing to discuss modifying the law. She said the Education Department still is considering letting states use a growth model to gauge the progress of individual students as they move among grades.

She also said the department will work with states to develop modified tests for special-education students. That became a hot-button issue in
Texas in February when Education Commissioner Shirley Neeley exempted hundreds of thousands of such students from federal testing rules. Texas likely faces a fine for defying the law.

Texas law requires an alternate exam for most special-education students. About 9 percent of Texas' 2.9 million children took the alternate test in 2004.

But federal law said only the 1 percent of students with the most severe cognitive disabilities could be exempted, with anything exceeding the 1 percent counting as failures.

As a compromise, Spellings let
Texas exempt up to 5 percent of students this year and up to 3 percent in the future.

Miami school employees charged with drug traffic
Federal authorities say ring dealt in OxyContin 
Ihosvani Rodriguez, South Florida Sun-sentinel, 8/5/05

MIAMI - Federal agents yesterday rounded up 22 Miami-Dade County school system employees who were accused of being part of a prescription drug ring that illegally obtained and sold thousands of tablets of the painkiller oxycodone since 2003.

Officials found no evidence that school employees sold the drug to students or used the highly addictive painkillers at work. The employees included five school bus drivers, 13 school bus attendants, a cook, two custodians and a school cashier. A Miami-Dade transit bus driver who was arrested worked previously as a school bus driver.

Authorities unsealed a federal grand jury indictment yesterday that contained 84 counts against 29 people. The lengthy list of charges includes conspiracy to distribute oxycodone and committing health care fraud.

Among those charged was a Miami-Dade doctor arrested last year for writing illegal prescriptions for the drug commonly known as OxyContin. Prosecutors said no teachers were involved in the plot.

Investigators rushed to make the arrests before next week's start of the school year and expect more arrests, U.S. Attorney R. Alexander Acosta said.

Schools spokesman Joseph Garcia said there was no indication the bus drivers were under the influence of drugs while working. He said drivers must take a drug test before employment and after an accident, and submit to random drug tests.

A central figure in the case was Dr. Ronald E. Harris, prosecutors said. Authorities identified Harris last year as
Florida's top prescriber of OxyContin to Medicaid patients. He was charged last year with drug trafficking after allegedly selling undercover police officers 10 OxyContin prescriptions without proof of medical need. He is awaiting trial. Officials with the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration said Harris' arrest prompted their investigation of the school system employees.

Investigators said the operation was traced back to January 2003 when Harris began selling prescriptions to Ian Stuart and Johnny Blocker, identified as the ring's leaders. Blocker, a bus attendant, paid colleagues for their school employee insurance information to obtain and pay for the prescription drugs, authorities said.

The ringleaders paid school employees up to $100 per prescription and up to $400 if they went to a pharmacy to get the pills. Employees sold the pills to a street dealer, who resold them for as much as $80 a pill.

OxyContin, prescribed for chronic pain, has become a huge force in the black market in recent years.

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