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
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
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
Meanwhile, spending disparities play out in classrooms every day.
CookCounty'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
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 LakeCounty spent $23,799 per pupil in 2003-04, compared with $4,438
spent by CentralSchool
51, a grade school district in TazewellCounty 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 Illinois.
"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
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."
Still, 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
In the lowest-spending district, CentralSchool
51 in TazewellCounty, 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
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,"
But research also has shown that disadvantaged students need and can
benefit from higher spending, including extra tutoring and small class
In Bellwood District 88 in west CookCounty, 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
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.
ILLINOIS SCHOOL DISTRICTS' SPENDING
Spending per pupil (1994-2004)
Highest spender: $23,799 - RondoutSchool
72, Lake County
Lowest spender: $4,438 - CentralSchool
51, Tazewell County
HOW ILLINOIS PAYS FOR PUBLIC SCHOOLS
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.
SPRINGFIELD - Illinois school officials say they will have a fairer assessment
under recent changes to the state's implementation of No Child Left
"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
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
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."
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
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
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,"
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,"
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
"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
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
Jasmine Willingham walked into her new kindergarten classroom at LegacyCharterSchool 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 to --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 HowlandSchool 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
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
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."
It used to be SpringfieldSchool
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
Studies suggest highly mobile students are less likely to do well in
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
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
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,"
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 IlesSchool, 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
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:
DoddsSchool, 2630 Whittier Ave., and MathenySchool, 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.
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 LakeCounty spent $23,799 per pupil - $19,361 more than TazewellCounty's CentralSchool
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
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
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
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
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 GatewayBuilding.
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.
ROCKISLAND -- Students, some balancing backpacks larger than their
small frames, started classes Tuesday at the new Primary and IntermediateAcademies.
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 PrimaryAcademy, 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 PrimaryAcademy, which teaches students in preschool through second
grade. Third- through sixth-graders attend the IntermediateAcademy.
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 IntermediateAcademy, 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
"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
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
schools will never be the same," said school board president Bill
"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 PrimaryAcademy and sang "Happy Birthday" to their new school
and said the Pledge of Allegiance.
At the IntermediateAcademy, 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."
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 BontempsElementary
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 Englewood.
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
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
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
"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.
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 , said Martin, a registered nurse who works in Pekin.
The children go to OlympiaWestElementary School
in Minier because HopedaleElementary
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
Olympia officials argue closing schools in Hopedale, Stanford
and McLean helped balance the budget after two failed property tax increase
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 to
Aug. 22 at TazewellCountyJusticeCenter in Pekin.
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
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
"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?'' TOP OF PAGE
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. TOP OF PAGE
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. TOP OF PAGE
out to teachers Ed Sec signals NCLB leeway at AFT conference
Laura Ascione, eSchool News Assistant Editor, 8/1/05
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
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
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
"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,
"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
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,
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
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,"
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." TOP OF PAGE
Hope abounds surrounding
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
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 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. TOP OF PAGE
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
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
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
). 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
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. TOP OF PAGE
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
"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
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.
The IllinoisVirtualSchool 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.
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
"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 FloridaVirtualSchool. 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
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
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
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.
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 Hawaii.''
The Kamehameha Schools had no immediate response to the ruling. TOP OF PAGE
Feds should fund
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
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.
LowerShore 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.
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 presidents 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 nations
Bush declined to state his personal views on intelligent design, the
belief that life forms are so complex that their creation cant
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. Youre asking me whether
or not people ought to be exposed to different ideas. The answer is
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 ArkansasCity. I think its important for students to be
able to critically analyze evolution, but to actually insert intelligent
design into it Im not much in favor of inserting intelligent
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 organizations Center for
Science and Culture, said in a news release. TOP OF PAGE
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
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
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 MontgomeryCounty. 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.
In CalvertCounty, 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." TOP OF PAGE
CobbCounty 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
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. TOP OF PAGE
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
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
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 BroadUrbanSuperintendentsAcademy.
"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. TOP OF PAGE
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
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
"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
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 GrantR.JeffreyMinistries' 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
Mike Johnson, a lawyer for the national council, cited a 1999 legal
opinion by four lawyers calling the course permissible under constitutional
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
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
CreationEvidenceMuseum 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. TOP OF PAGE
When Teachers Don't
Make the Grade
Governor says his plan will streamline the rules for getting rid of
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 EdisonMiddle 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,
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
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."
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,
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 GarfieldHigh
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
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
"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."
GENOA TOWNSHIP, Mich. -- Students working at some McDonald's restaurants around
the country are getting paid whether they are flipping burgers or flipping
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. TOP OF PAGE
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
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
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 DoverAreaSchool
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. TOP OF PAGE
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
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
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
"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
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. TOP OF PAGE
22 Miami school employees charged with drug traffic
Federal authorities say ring dealt in OxyContin
Rodriguez, SouthFlorida Sun-sentinel, 8/5/05
MIAMI - Federal agents yesterday rounded up 22 Miami-DadeCounty 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
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. TOP OF PAGE
Illinois State Board of Education
100 North First Street
Springfield, IL 62777