CHICAGO (AP) Illinois public schools are required to teach about genocides
around the world under a bill signed Friday by Gov. Rod Blagojevich.
The measure, which took effect immediately, expanded the previous requirement
that elementary and high school students learn about the Holocaust to
include lessons on genocides in Armenia, Bosnia, Cambodia, Rwanda, Sudan and Ukraine.
School districts have the entire academic year to meet the law's requirement,
State Board of Education spokeswoman Becky Watts said.
"As we teach our kids the important lessons of history, we have
to be sure that they understand that racial, national, ethnic and religious
hatred can lead to horrible tragedies," Blagojevich said in a statement.
Glenn "Max" McGee, superintendent of schools in the Chicago suburb of Wilmette and a former
state schools superintendent, said learning about genocide and other
tragedies should be part of the curriculum.
"I think it is important for boys and girls to learn about these
tragic events so that maybe they can make contributions that will truly
change the course of history in the future," he said.
But McGee worried the requirement could become an unfunded mandate from
"I hope and trust that the state Board of Education will provide
resources and some training in teaching these and it won't fall in the
district's lap to develop units," McGee said.
The law says the State Board of Education may give instructional materials
to districts to help them develop classes. Local school districts would
set specifics on the classes for each grade level.
The state board's curriculum and instruction division, which is responsible
for learning standards, was researching what curricula exists and which
ones would be most helpful to schools to teach about genocides, Watts
No decision has been made yet about whether the board will recommend
a curriculum or help schools access parts of one by providing online
resources, she said.
Schools will teach a unit on genocide and the lessons can last for different
lengths of times, she said.
The genocides students will learn about include Rwanda, where about 500,000 people, most of them from the country's
Tutsi minority, were killed in 100 days by a regime of extremists from
its Hutu majority in 1994. In July 1995, as many as 8,000 Bosnian Muslim
men and boys in the U.N.-protected Bosnian enclave of Srebrenica were
killed in Europe's worst massacre since World War II.
In the Darfur region of Sudan, war-induced hunger and disease have killed more than
180,000 people and driven more than 2 million from their homes since
rebels from black African tribes took up arms in February 2003, complaining
of discrimination and oppression by Sudan's Arab-dominated government.
Richard Hirschhaut, project and executive director of the IllinoisHolocaustMuseum and EducationCenter, praised the bill.
State education officials are trying to figure out how to
deal with the mess after at least 100 Downstate teachers saw a passage
on this year's fifth-grade reading test months before it was given,
the Chicago Sun-Times has learned.
The "contamination'' forced the state to throw out a third of the
test. All answers were scrapped involving a passage called "Blue
Darter'' -- the tale of a little girl who threw a mean pitch for an
all-boy baseball team.
So far, extra state analyses have found the fifth-grade test was "not
significantly damaged" by removing the passage, said Becky McCabe,
the Illinois State Board of Education's assistant director of student
ISBE officials this week will analyze whether the scores of low-income
kids were unfairly affected by tossing out scores tied to "Blue
Darter.'' They want to be extra careful because of unusually high stakes
attached to this year's tests.
Some schools, including many in Chicago, will face the stiffest sanctions
allowed under the federal No Child Left Behind law, so "we want
to make sure we're being fair with everybody,'' said Becky Watts, a
spokeswoman for the Illinois State Board of Education. "This is
the top of the heap . . . as far as the accountability system goes.''
The Blue Darter passage was the first of three that fifth-graders tackled
on their March Illinois Standards Achievement Tests.
Its security was compromised, officials said, after consultant Mary
Kay Henson of Downstate Albany watched experts score part of the 2004
ISATs and later "inadvertently'' used Blue Darter materials during
2005 workshops for teachers from about 30 districts.
The scoring company, Measurement Inc., should never have released a
real test passage to Henson, said McCabe.
McCabe said she is still "kinda hot'' about the whole fiasco.
"This was a wonderful passage. Teachers loved it. They are so bummed
out that this passage was contaminated,'' McCabe said.
For her part, Henson says she feels "terrible.'' She insisted the
materials mailed to her were never marked "secure,'' although ISBE
officials said another consultant who received similar materials said
hers were stamped "secure.''
"I would have never used these had I thought they were going to
be used on a test,'' Henson said. "Anybody, I swear, who knows
me would back me up.''
On Wednesday, preliminary state test results showed Chicago reading scores went up in every grade tested except
The downturn initially worried Chicago officials who plugged other reading results into a computer
model that predicted fifth-graders should have done better than the
state calculated, said Chicago Accountability Chief Dan Bugler.
Bugler said he asked the state to probe further but "their psychometrician
came back and said he was satisfied.... So what do you do at that point?''
However, at the Sun-Times' request, ISBE agreed to analyze whether low-income
kids who fell just below passing would have passed if their Blue Darter
answers were counted.
Results are expected soon and will be used to determine how to treat
schools with fifth grades facing sanctions because of their reading
scores, ISBE officials said.
Barbara Radner, director of DePaulUniversity's Center for Urban Education, said inner-city low-income
kids could identify with Blue Darter and may not have related as well
with other passages. In addition, Chicago's weak readers would have been at their peak in tackling
the first passage, Radner said.
For Chicago, the ISAT snafu marked the second major test glitch
Chicago officials this year went out of sequence and used an old form
of the Iowa Test of Basic Skills that required so much technical tweaking
afterwards, even the test's author said Chicago's small reading gains
had to be taken "with a grain of salt.''
Said Radner: "This year is exhibit A on why you have to be careful
how much weight you place on any one test.''
Someone dropped an article in front of Phil Lawler at a staff meeting
for physical education instructors with the Naperville, Ill., schools. The summary of the article: Kids are getting
fatter, and it's starting to affect their health. That was 12 years
"That was a unique article, then," Lawler said. "Now,
that's all you read about - the obesity crisis ... So 12 years ago,
we started coming up with a solution.
"The thing about obesity is, it doesn't discriminate. Wealthy kids,
kids in poverty, all ethnic groups ..."
Obesity wasn't such a problem at that time, but neither is a freight
train - until it slams into you.
"We found everything in the school focused, especially in the secondary
schools, on turning kids into athletes," Lawler recalled. Students
who wanted physical education, but didn't want to compete in sports,
had few options.
The answer? "We started changing the focus to health, wellness
and lifestyle management," he said.
Two years ago, the school system surveyed its students' health, and
found 3 percent of its students were overweight or obese.
Nationally, 15 percent of children ages 6 to 18 are considered overweight
or obese, according to the Federal Interagency Forum on Child and Family
Statistics. Health officials call youths' rate of being overweight or
obese an epidemic and a threat to overwhelm the health care system within
the next 10 years.
Lawler admits that Naperville, just south of Chicago, is among the wealthiest school districts in the Midwest, perhaps in the United States; teachers' salaries are among the highest in the country,
and when a good program pops up, so does the money to pay for it.
But the key wasn't money, he said. They key was teachers, parents and
even community leaders recognizing the problem.
Back to reality
In St. Louis and across the nation, parents want their children to
come home from school smarter than when they left. They also want them
to come home healthier.
But there's no consistent policy for schools in Missouri or Illinois, public or private, to ensure that happens. And even
in states that do have such policies, they often aren't enforced.
Despite laws and mandates, schools in the same district differ in their
approach toward health and fitness. Some will be stellar; some will
be putrid. "I've (dealt with) a school that served funnel cakes
for lunch," said Marilyn Tanner, a registered pediatric dietitian
at St. Louis Children's Hospital. But in the same geographical area,
she pinpointed schools with great nutrition and fitness programs.
What to do
The spearhead must be parents who start asking the right questions,
experts say: What do the schools serve their children for meals, what's
available for children to eat, how much physical education do schools
offer during the day and week?
But in the face of rising mandates and falling funds, schools have interpreted
their tasks to cut "play" in favor of "work." When
that happened, nonacademic elements of education suffered, especially
physical education and the arts.
So the days of physical education classes every day in schools appear
to be over in many places.
"Don't assume that the physical education you had in school is
the same that your children are having," said Natalie Allen, a
dietitian and teacher with School Outreach and Youth Development Department
of BJC HealthCare.
The National Association for Sport and Physical Education found in 2003
that in Missouri, 33.2 percent of all students attended daily physical
education classes; the national average was 28.4 percent. Overall, 49.4
percent attended a PE class at least once a week (including those who
attended daily classes); the national average was 55.7 percent.
Illinois officials didn't respond to the organization's survey.
Illinois has since passed legislation requiring daily PE from
kindergarten through 12th grades, but about a quarter of Illinois school districts have received waivers to those requirements.
Even with state mandates regarding physical education and nutrition,
"Schools vary on the amount of physical education classes that
they have and the resources that are available to them," said Allen.
If that's the case, the next step is for parents to get involved, and
that means checking out what's going on at the individual schools. That
means asking questions of the school's principal, the physical education
instructor and the school nurse.
"And ask your child every day, 'What did you do in PE?'" Allen
said. "The new concept now is physical education for life. Instead
of teaching children the fundamentals of a sport, we teach them things
they can do for a long time - a walking club or something like that.
"Tons of research shows that active kids become active adults.
That can be in PE, or in extracurricular activities. You want your kids
to get really active and stay that way throughout life."
Ross Brownson, professor of epidemiology and director of the PreventionResearchCenter at St. LouisUniversity, says the concern about childhood obesity is real, but
it seems to have popped up quickly on the radar screen. Many parents
may be caught off guard as the issue becomes more critical.
If that's the case, Brownson said, the first step is to know how to
address the problem.
"School environment is a place where children spend so much of
their time. There's a large chunk," he said. "You have to
ask what's the curriculum, what are children learning in health education
in any area of health, what health services are available - counseling,
psychological services for mental health issues and under-diagnosed
problems. You have to look at the environment in a comprehensive way.
"These are not simple problems. We didn't get to the obesity problem
because one thing changed. It's unlikely one magic solution will solve
Why do we send our children to school? In the most practical sense,
we want to prepare them for earning a good living and leading productive
lives. There is a direct connection between a good education and a good
job. Remember, all students have one thing in common: They eventually
go to work. But often, our schools operate in a vacuum, far removed
from the real world.
I've heard many business people express frustration with the challenge
of finding the quality employees they need. That frustration threatens
to cause those businesses to flee Illinois
-- and take the jobs with them. We cannot allow that to happen.
There is no reason why we can't bridge what we are teaching in our schools
to employers' needs. But it's going to require a great deal of cooperation
and an ongoing dialogue among educators, parents, higher education and
That dialogue got a boost with the first public meeting of the Illinois
Education Excellence Task Force on July 26. The task force was formed
in mid-May by the Illinois State Board of Education at the urging of
Gov. Blagojevich, who understands that by addressing this challenge
we will be making Illinois much stronger. I am honored to serve as the task force
chairman. Its other members are Georgia Costello, Sherry Eagle, Max
McGee, Lou Mervis, Glenn Poshard and Patrick Welch.
One purpose of the task force, as I see it, is to establish an ongoing
dialogue about fresh ideas, specific needs and specific proposals to
help us to achieve the ultimate goal of an educated, productive and
gainfully employed Illinois work force -- from blue-collar workers to white-collar
Illinois is well positioned to reach this goal.
Blagojevich has already expanded preschool, provided updated rigorous
standards for high school graduation, provided billions more dollars
to support schools, and reconstituted the Illinois Board of Education
and made it focus on assisting our schools and making them better. The
governor made the excellent choice of Jesse Ruiz to chair the State
Board, and Ruiz and his colleagues have already accomplished a great
deal. The new board has eliminated the backlog of teacher certifications;
cut unnecessary rules and regulations, and fixed the School Report Card
to make it easier for parents to understand. Combine these positives
with the good work taking place in Chicago Public Schools and other
hardworking districts across the state and, well, you get the picture.
We also have some of the best and brightest leaders and teachers in
our universities and schools. Finally, Illinois is without doubt home to many world-class employers.
And we are fortunate to have them.
A well-educated and well-prepared work force will go a long way toward
retaining and attracting more major employers. Good jobs lead to successful
communities. And that's good for all of us.
Clearly, we can't bring business and education together with one task
force or any one group or person. But we're started by enabling a dialogue
that will lay the groundwork that will get us there. In addition to
those natural constituencies in education, we invited the business community
to explain their needs and expectations. Then we must see what we can
do to meet them. In my experience, business has been a force for positive
change in education for decades, and educators should work even more
Our task force will surely help bring about a closer relationship between
business and education, first through dialogue, and then by developing
an action agenda. Ultimately, all of our students will be better prepared
to join the workplace. But it will only happen if we are all on the
It'll be a win-win-win-win when everyone's needs are being met. In future
columns, I'll let you know what we're learning and what we accomplish.
Gery Chico is senior partner at the law firm of Chico and Nunes and former president of the Chicago Board
SPRINGFIELD, Ill. - An investment company doing business with the state
teacher pension fund is scheduled to appear before the fund's board
of trustees this week to answer questions about fees it paid to the
new treasurer of the Republican National Committee.
The decision Monday by the board of the Illinois Teachers Retirement
System to put questions to The Carlyle Group comes after the Chicago
Tribune reported that Robert Kjellander received more than $3 million
in fees from the Washington-based firm.
There is no accusation of wrongdoing against lobbyist Kjellander or
the investment firm, and the use of such consultants by companies seeking
investments from public pension funds is legal and not uncommon.
But the report shed light on the role that political insiders can play
in the complex world of state pension investments. Some pension officials
said they are skeptical of working with a so-called "third-party
marketer" when they can deal with the investment firms directly.
The pension system's executive director, Jon Bauman, acknowledged that
Kjellander made contacts about Carlyle with Stuart Levine, who was a
trustee of the pension plan at the time.
Federal prosecutors indicted Levine last week on charges, unrelated
to Carlyle, that he extorted money from investment firms seeking to
do business with the Teachers Retirement System.
Bauman, who said he was "chagrined" because the board did
not know of any contact between Kjellander and Levine, said Carlyle
was added to the board's agenda for its Thursday meeting to discuss
the fees paid to Kjellander.
Carlyle spokesman Chris Ullman said the company has "served the
pension board well and (looks) forward to the meeting."
Kjellander, 57, of Springfield, has said his lobbying efforts have "absolutely
nothing to do" with the federal investigation and that The Carlyle
Group is not under investigation.
Carlyle, Kjellander and pension officials have said the fees paid to
the lobbyist are subtracted from the regular fees Carlyle is paid and
do not come straight out of the pension funds.
Kjellander told the Tribune Monday that he may have had contact with
Levine, but he said he would have simply asked that Carlyle been given
a fair chance.
"That's part of my job," he said. "My job was to say,
give these guys an opportunity to present their case." TOP OF PAGE
CHICAGO Here in Illinois, how much money a school has - and whether it can offer
extras like foreign languages and AP classes, or even pay for basic
facilities - depends mostly on where that school is.
The difference in annual spending between the wealthiest district and
the poorest has grown to $19,361 per pupil, according to the most recent
school-spending data and a Chicago Tribune analysis. It's a staggering
figure even in a state known for wide funding gaps, and Illinois is
starting to give the kind of attention to the issue that courts have
forced in a handful of other states. Still, even as education reformers
call for higher taxes and increased funds for the poorest districts,
others point out that more money often doesn't lead to better schools.
The factors that improve student performance often seem a fuzzy list
of hard-to-define assets like good teachers, effective principals, smaller
classes, and the right curricula, only some of which are directly related
But it's also hard to get away from at least a few cash-related questions.
"Just giving more money doesn't solve the problems of achievement,"
says Kevin Carey, director of policy research for the Education Trust.
"But in order to run an effective school, you have to have enough
money and you have to spend it well. It's not an either-or situation."
Mr. Carey points out that per-pupil figures often illustrate only a
portion of the inequalities, since there are typically much higher costs
associated with educating low-income students: extra tutoring, special
education, individual education plans. The generally accepted figure
is an additional 40 percent for low-income students.
When that amount is factored in, an Education Trust report showed a
difference of $2,465 per student between the top and bottom quartile
of districts in Illinois.
Those sorts of figures, however, anger some education reformers who
consider school funding a distraction from the issues that really matter.
They point to the fact that a few schools often manage to do well with
very limited funds, and that many schools have seen influxes of money
without a corresponding payoff in achievement.
"We should be worried about performance inequities," says
Eric Hanushek, a senior fellow at the Hoover Institute at StanfordUniversity, citing achievement gaps for minority and low-income
students. "Unfortunately, they aren't very closely related to spending
Until a district demonstrates it can spend money wisely, says Mr. Hanushek,
it shouldn't be rewarded with more. A court decision like the recent
New York one that said New York City schools should receive another
$5.6 billion shifts the legislative conversation to pure funding matters,
he says, "squeezing out more fundamental discussions of how to
improve schools." The extra money for New
York City, Hanushek suggests, is likely just to give more money
to the same poor-quality teachers.
York lawsuit led to a 2003 ruling that the state's school-finance
system was unconstitutional. The city still has yet to see the extra
money, but some are hopeful it will make a real difference.
Molly Hunter, director of the Access Network for the Campaign for Fiscal
Equity, which brought the lawsuit, notes that students in New York have to pass a laboratory science test. "But 31
high schools in New
had no science lab," she says.
Ms. Hunter agrees that teacher quality is hugely important. But without
the money to pay a competitive salary, attracting those teachers is
Hunter has seen all sorts of examples to show that money and student
performance aren't related. But typically, she says, those isolated
examples involve special circumstances - like university-town parents
who have PhDs.
Often court cases like New York's
are the driving force to change a state's funding system. The most successful,
pioneered in Kentucky, involve what's known as the "adequacy" argument.
Instead of arguing that all students deserve equal funding, adequacy
advocates say all schools need a basic minimum amount.
"We know that money matters," says Bindu Batchu, campaign
manager of A+ Illinois, a coalition that promotes school-funding tax
reform. In the rural district of Sparta, she says, the superintendent
also acts as music teacher and principal at one school and teachers
have stopped even asking for replacements for the 20-year-old textbooks
- they now just ask for duct tape.
"We can't expect school districts struggling to hold books together
with duct tape to invest in programs," that improve achievement,
Advocates for reform would like to see the state pick up a bigger share
of the bill and increase its overall funding. But such a change may
mean more taxes - one reason any real reform has been slow in coming
in a state that relies heavily on local property taxes.
Ms. Batchu, for one, hopes that the situation has gotten serious enough
- in Republican downstate communities as well as cities like Chicago - to force some action. "This is not a red or blue
issue," she says.
Take rural Galesburg, which depends on state aid due to a struggling local
economy. Last year, they spent about $6,500 per student - $2,300 behind
the state average.
The district has already closed one school for at-risk kids that was
showing signs of success. This year, they'll probably have to close
another school, says Paul Woehlke, the district's director of finance.
"It's a real challenge for districts such as Galesburg to prepare students to compete at a college level with
students from better-funded districts," says Mr. Woehlke. "Money
isn't everything, but it's a significant thing."
A federal judge has dismissed a lawsuit filed by Streator Elementary
School District 44 and three other districts challenging the No Child
Left Behind Act.
However, District 44 superintendent Dr. Edward Allen isnt ready
to let the case go.
In dismissing the suit filed against the U.S. Department of Education
and the Illinois State Board of Education the judge said the
districts failed to sufficiently establish an injury to the disabled
students who are parties to the complaint. Allen said students were
There is obviously damage; its hurting kids. But perhaps
that was not detailed enough in the lawsuit, Allen admitted.
Allen said the districts attorney indicated his belief that the
judges decision comes from a fundamental lack of knowledge
on the judges part of special education students and IDEA
(Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, the federal special education
Although the suit was dismissed, it is not yet dead.
My understanding is that the lawsuit is not dead, that the judge
is wanting more information. Maybe theres an attempt by the judge
to allow the schools and the federal government to work this out,
the superintendent speculated.
Allen will devote a portion of Tuesdays regular board of education
meeting to the lawsuit.
Ill be recommending to the board that we direct the attorney
to continue to address this particular issue (specifically outlining
the damage to children). With the boards okay, Ill work
with the other three school districts to do that, he said.
Back in February, District 44 joined three other districts OttawaTownshipHigh
Ottawa Elementary, and Queen Bee in the lawsuit: the first of
its kind in the nation.
For two straight years, District 44 fell short of the target goals of
NCLB because of the requirement that special needs students test at
the same grade level as their peers, rather than at their current level
of education. The remaining student population met the goals laid out
Under the law, if one subgroup made up of 40 or more students
that meet certain specifications, including special education, low income,
gender and race does not meet the goals, then the entire school
is cited as needing improvement.
Failure to make Annual Yearly Progress (AYP) in the special education
subgroup has placed Streator Elementary on the Academic Early Warning
Allen explained the lawsuit argues that there is a conflict between
special education students Individual Education Plans (IEP, mandated
by law for each special education student) and NCLB.
Allen has said he believes the special education standards are unfair
because those students are required to take the same test as regular
education students despite the fact that special ed students usually
function two or more grades below their peers.
Last year 200 other Illinois districts also failed to make AYP because of their special
ed scores, Allen pointed out.
The superintendent reported he had just learned that the district as
well as each individual school within the district had made AYP in the
latest assessment. Allen said he couldnt yet identify what had
made the difference this year, but said the staff had been working very
strenuously this year to prepare students for the standardized tests.
He said the news also bolsters the districts separate appeal to
get the 2003 test results thrown out. The district was notified 18 months
late that it had failed to make AYP in 2003, despite a requirement that
school officials be notified much sooner. If the 2003 results were eliminated,
District 44 would be off the Academic Early Warning list.
Earlier this year, the District 44 board of education authorized spending
up to $10,000 on the NCLB lawsuit. So far, about $6,100 has been spent,
The interim superintendent for ProvisoTownshipSchool
209 is unqualified to hold the position, according to the State Board
Bob Libka was given a one-year, $150,000 contract last month to replace
former Superintendent Greg Jackson, who was fired in a swift reorganization
of brass at the district.
Libka, formerly the district's auxiliary programs director, admits he
holds an administrator's Type 75 certification, but not the required
Superintendent's Endorsement. He said he is working toward his Superintendent's
Endorsement at ConcordiaUniversity.
"Our attorney has encouraged us that the board is doing the right
thing," Libka said.
Chris Welch, District 209 Board president, maintains that an interim
superintendent is not held to the same standards as a full superintendent.
"It is not against the law to have an interim superintendent who
is working on an endorsement," Welch said. "We have received
that advice and we believe it is good advice."
But Becky Watts, a spokeswoman for the Illinois State Board of Education,
said Welch is mistaken.
"There is really no consideration given if he's pursuing (a Superintendent's
Endorsement)," Watts said. "If
he doesn't have it, he doesn't have it."
She added that the matter will be handled by the regional superintendent's
office. "They're kind of that first layer of oversight," Watts
Bob Ingraffia, regional superintendent of schools for suburban CookCounty, agreed with Watts'
"You have to have certificate in hand," Ingraffia said. "In
order to be a superintendent, interim or otherwise, you have the have
the proper certification."
When asked about another former District 209 interim superintendent,
Dale Crawford, who also didn't have the proper endorsement on his Type
75 certificate, Ingraffia said the situation was similar: Both Crawford
and Libka are not qualified for the spot.
"We were under the impression that (Crawford) had earned the Superintendent's
Endorsement," Ingraffia said. "He had not earned it."
Ingraffia said he has been trying to contact District 209 officials
to discuss the matter and ask that Libka be replaced by an individual
with properly certification.
"They have to have someone in that position that has the proper
certifications for it, so (asking for Libka's replacement) would certainly
be a part of it," Ingraffia said.
Welch said he trusts board attorney Mark Sterk's advice over Ingraffia
and the State Board of Education.
"Ingraffia's wrong," Welch said. "He's been wrong before,
and he's wrong now."
Ingraffia also warned that having an interim superintendent affects
the district's recognition with the state.
"The word 'interim' automatically will force me to put them on
'pending further audit' status," Ingraffia said. "What it
means is you have a problem within the district and you need to clear
it up within a reasonable amount of time in order to be on full recognition
Falling below full recognition status could result in penalties including
being taken over by the state, Ingraffia noted, "though to the
best of my knowledge it has never come to that."
Welch maintains that Libka will remain interim superintendent until
a search for a permanent replacement is found, which he expects to take
place "sometime in 2006."
He added that Libka will be considered as Jackson's permanent replacement after a search is conducted.
"If he does not complete the Superintendent's Endorsement by the
time we finish our search, he will not be considered for the position,"
Libka said he's interested in the permanent position.
"I plan to apply for the position," Libka said. "I anticipate
having the work completed by no later than this time next year. I have
been apprised that there are some faster ways to achieve the certifications,
and I might look into working on both simultaneously.
"I have a passion for our community too, not just Maywood," said Libka, a former Maywood resident. "My passion extends throughout the whole
district. And I would enjoy serving long term, if given the opportunity."
PEORIA - Later this month, Gov. Rod Blagojevich is expected
to sign a bill that would change the way special education students
are tested under the federal No Child Left Behind Act, his aides said
The federal law currently requires special education students to take
the same test as their peers, even if their individualized education
plans, known as IEPs, have them learning subjects at lower grade levels.
The bill would allow students to test instead in the grade level at
which they are being taught.
Since the inception three years ago of President Bush's controversial
and sweeping education measure, school officials have complained that
the testing requirements for special education students were unrealistic.
Last year, about 235 Illinois schools, including several locally,did not meet standards
under the law because of the test results of students with disabilities.
No Child Left Behind not only requires that the majority of students
in a school and district meet federal standards, but also students in
particular "sub-groups," such as minorities, bilingual students,
the poor and special education students.
"The special ed requirement really affects every school whether
you're high mobility, high poverty, wealthy, urban or rural," said
state Rep. Aaron Schock, R-Peoria, the bill's lead sponsor. "Fortunately,
we were able to pass this bill out of the House and Senate. Unfortunately,
it hasn't been singed into law yet."
Elliot Regenstein, the governor's director of education reform, said
late Tuesday that Blagojevich planned within the next several weeks
to sign the bill, which also addresses several other details of the
act. The measure is HB3678 and can be viewed in full at www.ilga.gov.
"It's not just about special education," Regenstein said.
"There's been a lot of response on the No Child Left Behind issue
in general. There's a lot of concern in local school districts about
the state's plan to implement the act."
The U.S. Department of Education would have to sign off on any changes
before they could take effect, Regenstein said. That's certainly no
guarantee. Gail Lieberman, a special assistant for No Child Left Behind
at the Illinois State Board of Education, said similar requests made
by other states regarding the special education testing have all been
denied. But local school districts are hoping for a change of heart.
323, for example, failed to meet the act's requirements for two years
in a row because of its special education population, even though it
met or exceeded standards in all other categories.
Assistant Superintendent John Burkey said the district took the results
as an opportunity to focus on raising achievement among its special
needs students, but still finds the requirement unrealistic.
"Let's say you have a student in the seventh grade reading at the
third-grade level. The student might be making progress, but still reading
at the third-grade level," Burkey said. "So why would you
test them at a seventh-grade level? That's not only unfair to the school,
but also to the student because you're setting that student up for failure."
The testing requirement was so frustrating to officials at Ottawa Township
High School District 140 that several months ago they sued the Department
of Education and the Illinois State Board of Education. The suit claimed
the act's requirements contradicted the federal Individuals with Disabilities
Education Act, which requires individualized education plans tailored
to meet a special education student's learning needs.
Superintendent Tom Jobst said a federal judge in Chicago dismissed the case because he wanted more information.
The district plans to re-enter its suit, he said. And while Jobst thinks
the measure Blagojevich is poised to sign will help, he's still frustrated
the No Child Left Behind Act seems to assume educators "can stamp
everybody out to be the same."
CARTHAGE, Ill. A new Committee of 10 has formed in HancockCounty to look at a reorganization of the Carthage, DallasCity and LaHarpe school districts.
Under reorganization by convergence, the three would maintain separate
elementary school districts but have a joint high school in Carthage.
"This convergence is a long-term solution more than some other
things that might be considered," said Pat Deitrich, a committee
member from LaHarpe. "We can get a better education, better curriculum
for our high school students and keep our pre-kindergarten through eighth
grade in LaHarpe which is very important to us."
The committee meets for the first time Wednesday night in DallasCity to begin work to put the issue on the March 2006 ballot.
"There will be only one question on the ballot in March: Do you
favor convergence?" Deitrich said. "If it passes in March,
a new board will be elected in November, and it will go into effect
in July 2007. Then it will be entirely up to the new board to decide
if and when to build a building."
This is a scaled-back and supporters say more palatable
version of the failed convergence effort between the three districts
and Nauvoo-Colusa. Voters in April were asked to approve convergence,
build a new $18 million high school and elect new high school and elementary
Janet Vass, a Dallas City School Board member who served on the last
committee and agreed to serve again, said the new convergence effort
"will definitely be easier" because the "groundwork was
already laid, the objectives already explained."
The first effort passed in LaHarpe and DallasCity, and narrowly failed in Carthage.
The new committee also involves a board member from each district.
"It should be a much easier job, not that it will be easy, but
we won't be reinventing the wheel," Carthage Superintendent Dan
The committee will work with a framework of recommendations from the
three School Boards including:
* Electing a new high school board with two members from each elementary
district and one at large.
* Locating the high school at the current CarthageHigh
with the new high school district negotiating a lease agreement with
the new Carthage elementary district, and using modular classrooms to
provide additional space.
* Waiting to hold a referendum for a new high school building until
state funding is more certain.
Deitrich said using the Carthage
facility instead of building a new school is "definitely the most
economical way to start out."
"It will be a totally new school district," James said. "It
won't be CarthageHigh
any longer. It will be whatever the name of the new school district
Boosting curriculum offerings with a larger high school is a key selling
point of the effort and one Deitrich firmly believes in after
watching her granddaughter Jaden, a 2005 LaHarpe graduate, give up some
things, like music, because of schedule conflicts.
"She got an excellent education I'm not saying she didn't
with excellent teachers and administrators who tried very hard
to give kids the very best they can, but it's going to be less and less
if we don't make other arrangements," Deitrich said.
"Whether it happens this time or not, reorganization is going to
happen," James said. "Everybody is losing students
you can't continue this. Kids need better opportunities. There need
to be better efficiencies."
Lockport High initiates new special ed program
Transition to adult world is aim of new center
By Andrea Hein, Special to The Star, 8/11/05
Just as college freshmen are taking their first spin around campus,
special education teens and their parents at LockportTownshipHigh
are getting their initial glimpse of the Dell computers, desks and washer
and dryer at their new school.
On Tuesday, families and educators toured the renovated facility at
936 State St., Lockport, for Career and Community Connections, a partnership
between LTHS and Cornerstone Services to help special education students
transition from school to the adult world.
The program is the first of its kind in the area, educators have said.
"I think it's great," said Lockport Ald. Diane Seiler, whose
son, Matthew, is participating in Career and Community Connections.
"It's going to be, truly, a great environment."
Classes in work, home and social skills start there Aug. 23.
"We're ready to roll," said Don Hespell, vice president and
chief executive officer of service programs at Cornerstone.
By law, school districts have to educate special education students
until they turn 21 or fulfill graduation requirements, whichever comes
A year to six months before the young adults leave school, they start
the transition into adult services, like the ones provided by Cornerstone.
But LTHS educators found that many of their students were not active
in the community after leaving.
After some brainstorming and months of hammering out the logistics,
Cornerstone and LTHS developed Career and Community Connections.
Now instead of a few months, the students will have up to three full
years of real-world education in a setting outside the traditional classroom.
In addition, the program will run year-round and offer the teens services
not available to them before, like night and weekend job supervision.
"It's a collaborative effort," LTHS Supt. Garry Raymond said.
"This is an opportunity where (Cornerstone's) goals are very much
in alignment with our goals."
In the State
facility, approximately a dozen students will learn job skills at the
computers and work tables and practice cooking, cleaning and doing the
laundry in a full kitchen with nearby washer and dryer. Each lesson
brings them increased independence.
"It gives the kids the opportunity to take the next step,"
said Alex Hildebrand, LTHS special education department chairman.
But Hespell said students will not spend all their time in the building.
Many of them will have the chance to either try out or work at real
jobs in the Joliet and Lockport area.
Cornerstone and LTHS officials also hope business owners in downtown
Lockport will see the value in employing some of the students.
Right now, Career and Community Connections is a pilot program. Hespell
said several other school districts have already voiced interest in
"Our objective is to develop two more of these (programs) in two
school districts for the next school year,: Hespell said. TOP OF PAGE
Joliet school district board member resigns
State's Attorney: Frank Stewart illegally held two positions
By Ted Slowik, Herald News Staff Writer, 8/11/05 JOLIET EmbattledJolietGradeSchool
board member Frank Stewart submitted his resignation Wednesday night.
Stewart's resignation, effective today, comes after the WillCountyState's Attorney's office vowed to take legal action to enforce
a law that prohibits people from simultaneously sitting on school and
county boards in WillCounty.
Stewart, 60, served 20 years on the grade school board and has been
a member of the Will County Board since 1998.
"Recent circumstances require that I submit my resignation,"
Stewart said at the end of Wednesday's school board meeting. "I
will definitely miss my association here."
A legal opinion by the Illinois
attorney general deemed that the two positions were incompatible and
could pose a conflict of interest when the two public bodies acted on
a policy that affected both.
Other grade school board members said they disagreed with the ruling.
"There's always the word abstain. That was put into the system
for a reason," said board Vice President Sandy Archambeau.
Board members praised Stewart for his service to the school district.
"He's a wonderful example of what people can do when they decide
to get up and serve the community," board member Deborah Ziech
Longtime board member Dave Evans said the law forcing Stewart to step
down was "asinine."
"There are other elected officials who hold two paying jobs, and
those positions are not incompatible," Evans said.
School board members are not paid. County board members do receive compensation.
Stewart said he would continue to volunteer his services to help the
school district. Community members serve on various committees.
The school district has 30 days to appoint a replacement for Stewart,
whose term expires in 2007. According to school district policy, the
person chosen to replace Stewart must live on the East
Side of the school
district. TOP OF PAGE
The Illinois State Board of Education gave a $27,500 pay raise to interim
state school superintendent Randy Dunn on Thursday when it unanimously
voted to extend his employment contract through Feb. 1, 2007.
The board also dropped the word interim from Dunns
Dunn, whose contract was to expire in September, was hired in September
2004 at a salary of $115,000. Under the contract extension, his new
salary will be $142,500 - an increase of 23.9 percent.
Board Chairman Jesse Ruiz said Dunns raise puts his salary in
the range of other Illinois school superintendents salaries. Ruiz said that
Dunns new pay rate is a far cry from the $225,000 salary that
his predecessor, Robert Schiller, was being paid at the time of his
Hopefully, its a statement by the board that were
trying to rein in spending and direct more money to the classroom,
Ruiz and six other board members joined the nine-member panel nearly
a year ago. Gov. Rod Blagojevich appointed them shortly after enactment
of a law authorizing him to remake the board.
The idea behind the law was to increase accountability by having an
Illinois State Board of Education whose members share a governors
I absolutely do think this thing is working as intended,
Dunn said of the boards closer working relationship with the governor.
Early in 2004, Blagojevich blasted the board as a Soviet-style
bureaucracy, and he sought to create a Department of Education
that largely would have replaced the board. That plan eventually was
In its first meeting, the revamped board hired Dunn as interim superintendent
and put Schiller on a paid leave of absence. Schiller submitted his
resignation a few days later.
While continuing as state school superintendent, Dunn, 47, will remain
on unpaid leave from Southern Illinois University at Carbondale. He is chairman of the universitys Department
of Educational Administration and Higher Education. TOP OF PAGE
CHICAGO - The director of the $30 billion state teacher pension
fund wants to end the practice of investment firms paying consultants
a "finders fee" for helping them land business with the fund
that has come under scrutiny in a corruption probe.
Earlier this week, government sources confirmed that federal prosecutors
have subpoenaed records concerning $4.5 million in fees the Washington-based
Carlyle Group paid a Springfield lobbyist to help the firm land investments from the
Illinois Teachers Retirement System.
Pension fund executive director Jon Bauman has said that, although such
fees are not unusual, the amount of the fees Carlyle Group paid to Robert
Kjellander, the new national Republican Party treasurer, is a matter
"Going forward, I think the board is not going to allow finders
fees," Bauman said Thursday after a board meeting, during which
members met with a Carlyle Group executive. Bauman did not say whether
the decision was related to the investigation into the payments made
The subpoena concerning the finders fees was part of the ongoing federal
investigation of corruption involving the fund, which pays the pensions
of retired downstate and suburban teachers.
Former trustee Stuart P. Levine was indicted Aug. 3 on charges of taking
kickbacks from firms seeking to do business with the fund. Chicago attorneys Steven Loren and Joseph Cari Jr., former finance
chairman of the Democratic National Committee, were charged with assisting
in the scheme and are cooperating in the investigation.
On Thursday, a government source confirmed that the pension fund has
supplied documents to federal prosecutors related to an investment firm
founded by Gov. Rod Blagojevich's former campaign chief. The source
spoke only on the condition of anonymity, saying prosecutors want details
of the probe kept secret.
Hopewell Ventures, whose principals include former top Blagojevich adviser
and 1992 Clinton campaign manager David Wilhelm, secured a $10 million
investment from the Teachers Retirement System in December 2003.
Neither Hopewell nor Wilhelm has been accused of wrongdoing. William
Sutter, Jr., managing partner of Chicago-based Hopewell, said the firm has not been subpoenaed nor contacted
by federal authorities.
Meanwhile, Carlyle Group co-founder David Rubenstein said during his
meeting with the board Thursday that his firm would no longer pay fees
to consultants who help land the fund's business. Board members did
not ask him about the firm's payments to Kjellander, citing the federal
Carlyle Group spokesman Christopher Ullman said Kjellander "helped
us get better acquainted" with the board. He said federal investigators
have not contacted the firm about the payments to Kjellander.
Neither the Carlyle Group nor Kjellander has been accused of wrongdoing.
Kjellander - pronounced shuh-LAN-dur - did not immediately return calls
Thursday from the AP.
Pension fund board members at the meeting were angry over last week's
indictments, apologizing to some teachers in attendance.
"While we had no knowledge of the misconduct alleged - and we certainly
did not participate - there is no question that the allegations are
a discredit to the persons charged who had fiduciary duties to the system,"
board vice president Molly Phalen said.
Blagojevich said he is hopeful the investigations related to firms providing
investment services to the teachers' pension fund will lead to reforms.
"I think when the smoke settles, what you'll find is there was
a cabal of crooks allegedly who were finagling and misusing their public
trust to try to make money," Blagojevich said.
He added, though, that Wilhelm is a friend and he "would be shocked"
if Wilhelm did anything improper.
Wilhelm said clout played no role in getting the business.
"It may well be that I'm able to arrange initial meetings because
of my past work and the relationships that I have," Wilhelm said.
"But we have received investments because we have a strategy that
is meaningful to the state of Illinois."
BELLEVILLE - Thursday's circuit court hearing to prevent District
201 from enforcing a new school uniform policy was canceled because
district attorneys had the lawsuit moved into federal court.
Attorneys for the four parents who brought the suit against the district
vow that they will have their "day in court" before the school
year begins on Aug. 22.
With little more than a week left, the latest legal brawl has left many
of parents in the pubic high school district confused about the clothing
their children will wear when they send them to school.
"I find it very frustrating," said Connie Turpin, a Belleville resident whose son and daughter attend Belleville East.
"It's very upsetting that parents have been out there all summer-long
buying clothes and all of a sudden now these people want to make it
so it's not enforced. So now what am I supposed to do?"
District Superintendent Brent Clark said that he can understand parents'
confusion over the pending litigation, however the district is going
to proceed as it normally would.
"At this point, the dress code is in effect and we're still planning
to start school with it in effect," he said.
In March, the district approved a new school uniform policy requiring
students to wear solid-colored khaki, black and blue bottoms and white,
maroon, dark blue and light blue tops.
The lawsuit filed on Monday seeks an injunction to maintain the dress
code policy that was already in effect for the more than 4,700 students
who attend Belleville East and West high schools before the uniform
policy was created.
The plaintiffs allege that their due process rights were violated because
the board enacted the new uniform policy without involving "any
members of any parent-teacher advisory committees except for the committees
hand-picked by Brent Clark and his administrators," according to
On Thursday, district attorneys said that they requested that the case
be moved from state court to federal court because the case primarily
involves federal claims.
"The claims that were made in the lawsuit were essentially federal
due process claims," said Stephanie Jones, one of the district's
lawyers. "We have a right under federal law that when a claim is
filed in state court and it contains those types of claims, it can be
removed to federal court."
The lawyer representing the parents said they will continue to seek
the injunction stopping the uniform policy and will either ask the court
to remand the case back to state court or have the case tried by a federal
"We're going to try to get a court to hear us somewhere,"
said Mark Goldenberg, an Edwardsville attorney representing the parents.
Don Bevirt, one of the parents who brought the suit against the district,
declined to comment except to say that the group will be meeting with
their attorneys to discuss their next move. The other plaintiffs could
not be reached for comment. TOP OF PAGE
Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich should not hesitate to sign legislation
that would allow schools to test special education students based on
their learning abilities rather than their age level. The latter is
currently the case under Uncle Sam's No Child Left Behind Act.
Like President Bush, we believe that all children can learn. But special
education students have diagnosed disabilities of one sort or another
that inhibit or slow that learning through no fault of their own. If
someone were paralyzed, would anyone who wasn't cruel by nature demand
that he get up and run a marathon? By taking a student who reads at
a second-grade level because of some handicap and testing him at an
eighth-grade level, that's effectively what No Child Left Behind is
doing. House Bill 3678 is a step toward basic fairness and decency.
The status quo also is unfair to school districts which are potentially
subject to punishment over the luck of the draw, in this case having
more special ed students than others. Few central Illinoisans would
point to the Dunlap Public Schools and call that a failing district.
Yet Dunlap is floundering in the eyes of federal officials, listed among
some 235 Illinois districts whose test scores for their special ed students
don't measure up. Dunlap surpassed Uncle Sam's expectations in every
other category. Its scores on the whole are relatively high. Yet under
this impossible standard, it's a loser?
The governor's signature in this case also would be a move toward consistency,
even sanity. No Child Left Behind is at odds with another piece of federal
legislation, the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, which
requires school districts to draw individualized education plans for
students with special needs. Uncle Sam can have it one way, or he can
have it the other, but unless he's schizophrenic he can't have both.
No Child Left Behind was a well-intentioned effort to fix what ails
American education, but its goals are not realistic and its implementation
has left a whole lot to be desired. We appreciate that other states
have adopted similar laws and been rebuffed by the federal government.
So be it again, if it comes to that.
Remember, it's the states' rights crowd that controls the White House,
the Congress and the Supreme Court. If the feds have a 50-state revolt
on their hands, No Child Left Behind won't accomplish anything. A little
additional pressure from the Land of Lincoln can't hurt. TOP OF PAGE
Utah rebuked over
Disappointed: Former secretary of education said the state doesn't understand
the education law
By Shinika A. Sykes, The Salt LakeTribune, 8/8/05
Utah's rebellion against the No Child Left Behind Act is
based on a misunderstanding of the law, says the nation's ex-education
boss, Rodney Paige.
Utah has every right to decide how best to educate its children,
according to the former secretary of education. "I am disappointed
Utah would forgo the resources of the federal government
to help with their education, especially with a growing minority population."
Paige, who served in the nation's top education post during the first
term of the Bush administration, was in Salt Lake City Saturday to speak at the Internet-based WesternGovernorsUniversity's commencement.
"I have faith that once [Utah officials] review the facts and what the law will achieve,
they, like the majority of states, will come to understand and support
NCLB," Page said.
During the 2005 Legislature, Utah lawmakers passed a measure that directs
state education officials to ignore provisions of NCLB that conflict
with Utah policy - or that require state money.
Orem GOP Rep. Margaret Dayton sponsored the measure, allowing Utah to replace the federal accountability standards with
Utah standards. The federal standards are aimed at closing
the achievement gaps between ethnic minority and Anglo students.
In an interview before joining WGU's academic processional into the
RoseWagnerCenter in Salt Lake City, Paige rejected concerns of flaws in President Bush's
landmark education reform act.
The president has the right idea for improving education for all the
nation's children, Paige insisted. "NCLB is what's best for children."
Dayton found it interesting Paige would assume Utah hadn't read the 700-plus NCLB law in its entirety.
Utah is not revolting against the federal law, Dayton said Saturday from her UtahCounty home. "We are asserting our rights under the Constitution
and affirmed under the law that created Utah as a state. It's a states' rights issue," she said.
According to Dayton, at least 33 states have some opposition to NCLB.
Paige resigned from the top education job at the start of the president's
second term. He now is a fellow with the WoodrowWilsonCenter, a public-policy think tank based in Washington, D.C.
In his speech to WGU graduates and their families, Paige ticked off
a list of notable individuals - Brigham Young, Mother Teresa, Nelson
Mandela - who stood up for what's right, and by doing so, changed the
"One person can make a difference," Paige said.
During the ceremony, WGU officials awarded 23 bachelor's, 17 master's,
three post-baccalaureate teacher preparation certificates and two associate
WGU President Robert Mendenhall presented Paige with an honorary doctor
of humane letters.
WGU graduate William Trozzo said his academic standing is now on par
with a job in computer-technology management. The 36 year-old married
father of three came to Salt
Lake City from Pittsburgh to pick up his bachelor's degree in information technology.
Trozzo said he had taken classes at the University of Pittsburgh but found it difficulty to work full time, take care of his family and
attend a traditional university.
Washington needs to let Virginia know soon whether it will waive some No Child Left Behind
rules. New state action may be needed.
When it comes to public school accountability, Virginia skipped years ahead of President George W. Bush.
The state launched its own Standards of Learning tests in 1998, had
ironed out many difficulties and had begun to make educational gains
by the time Bush signed his nationwide No Child Left Behind initiative
So Virginia should have earned plenty of the flexibility U.S. Secretary
of Education Margaret Spellings hinted at this spring when she promised
"a new day" for states struggling to comply with the sometimes
conflicting dictates of the Johnny-come-lately federal law.
Thus far, though, Virginia has not received so much as the courtesy
of a reply from Washington to several requests for waivers from rigid
federal standards. And the state did not get the response it wanted
on several more. Of 13 requests the state Education Department made,
some in January, Washington has denied five, approved four and left four unresolved
just weeks before the start of a new school year.
The federal agency needs to give Virginia answers, and soon.
As a bipartisan group of lawmakers -- including Republican state Sen.
Russ Potts, an independent candidate in this year's governor's race
-- noted in a letter last week to Spellings, the federal requirements
actually set back some of the Virginia reforms.
Part of the state's success goes unnoticed under NCLB benchmarks because
gains made before the federal law took effect make it all the harder
for schools to show the adequate yearly progress the federal government
demands, whether states already had improved their educational performance
And whereas Virginia's remedy for failing schools under the SOLs is to offer
help and increase resources, the federal response under NCLB is to offer
students the chance to leave and decrease resources.
Washington should give the state greater latitude -- not to elude the
federal government's mandate that no child be left behind educationally,
whatever his or her socioeconomic background -- but to reach that goal
by measures of its own that, thus far, have resulted in progress.
Whether the Bush administration comes through with its promised flexibility
or not, though, it must let the state know where it stands. Faced with
the negative effect on Virginia's own program, state lawmakers want to weigh the cost
of implementing NCLB against the loss of federal dollars if the state
simply refuses to participate. They need the full picture to evaluate
And the bottom line must be no net loss to the schools. TOP OF PAGE
TOPEKA, KANSAS -- The Kansas Board of Education voted 6-4 Tuesday to
include greater criticism of evolution in its school science standards,
but it decided to send the standards to an outside academic for review
before taking a final vote.
The language favored by the board Tuesday comes from advocates of intelligent
design, a concept that holds that some features of the natural world
are best explained by an unspecified intelligent cause.
The standards are used in developing state tests for 4th, 7th and 10th
graders, though local schools have the final say on what is taught in
The board is expected to vote on final approval of the standards in
President Bush once made improving American high schools a top priority
for his second term. It's a task widely regarded as vital to the nation's
future. But his plan is going nowhere in Congress.
Business leaders, governors and pundits say, and test scores confirm,
that U.S. high schools are failing to equip graduates with the
skills they need to compete in a global economy.
Yet Bush's proposal to extend his No Child Left Behind (NCLB) regime
of standards, testing and accountability to high schools hasn't even
been introduced in Congress.
And both houses rejected Bush's $1.5 billion plan for funding high school
reform when it refused to eliminate federal aid for traditional vocational
Instead, the Senate in March voted 99-0 to reauthorize the $1.3 billion
Perkins Act without writing in any performance standards for shop courses.
In May, the House passed a bill with modest upgrades, 416-9.
In an interview, Education Secretary Margaret Spellings told me that
"the people who don't want to change (are) our problem the people
who live off the vocational education program. They're a very powerful
But Mike Petrilli, a former Bush education official who's now vice president
for national programs and policy of the conservative Thomas B. Fordham
Foundation, said that Bush erred in trying to fund high school NCLB
by zeroing out voc-ed. "That was dead on arrival,' he said.
Bush should have found new money for high school reform, he said. And,
he added, "one major problem with Bush's plan is that it wasn't
much of a plan. It lacked any specificity.'
Spellings said that the administration probably won't propose a full-blown
high school reform plan until the 2001 NCLB law, which currently applies
only to elementary and middle schools, comes up for reauthorization
That means that Bush is likely to be out of office before the federal
government has any real impact on the problem of high school performance,
despite the promises made in the 2004 campaign, his State of the Union
address and his budget.
And, as Spellings said, the need for applying NCLB-style reform to high
schools was demonstrated anew in the latest National Assessment of Educational
Progress, released in July.
It showed that American 9-year- olds have made significant improvement
in reading and math, especially in the past five years. Thirteen-year-olds
made have made some progress, but 17-year-olds have made none at all.
"There are a lot of pundits talking about when the changes happened,'
she said. "All I know is that we have had more progress in the
last five years than in the entire history of the test, starting in
the early 1970s. So, you do the math.'
If it's true that NCLB has had a major impact on student performance
in lower grades, then why doesn't the administration press harder for
high school reform and put real money behind it?
In general, the administration is far behind the curve on the whole
issue of science, math and engineering competition with other countries,
especially China and India.
Bush believes that free trade will help expand both the U.S. and world economies. But the corollary has to be that
if low- skill U.S. jobs are going to migrate overseas, then the United States must excel in high-technology and have a high-skill
work force to do it.
Report after report has documented the need for an all-out effort akin
to that which followed the Soviet
Union's surprise launch
of Sputnik in 1956.
Among other things, Congress passed the 1958 National Defense Education
Act (NDEA), a $4 billion program to boost science and math education,
basic research, foreign language instruction and area studies.
A new study issued recently by some of the nation's major business organizations
called for doubling the number of graduates in science, technology,
engineering and math by 2015, partly by upgrading math and science teaching
in U.S. schools.
"The critical situation in American innovation threatens our standard
of living at home and our leadership in the world,' said John Castellani,
president of the Business Roundtable, one of the study's sponsors. "We
cannot wait for another Sputnik to propel our energy forward in this
The report noted that in a recent international assessment of problem-solving
skills among 15- year-olds, the United States had the smallest percentage of top performers and largest
percentage of low performers of any participating developed country.
It also reported that the percentage of U.S. students planning to pursue engineering degrees declined
by one-third between 1992 and 2002.
And, it said, federal funding for basic research in the physical sciences
as a percentage of GDP has declined by half since 1970. Bush is doing
nothing to increase it.
Defense officials proposed a new NDEA-style program for science and
languages, funded at $900 million a year, but the White House asked
for only $155 million over a five-year period.
Sens. Edward Kennedy, D- Mass., and Susan Collins, R- Maine, are proposing
to double the first-year budget of $10.3 million when the Defense Department
authorization bill comes to the Senate floor.
There's good news in the fact that the nation's governors are beginning
to act to improve high schools, knowing that their states' future depends
on a trained work force.
But except for Spellings cheering the governors on, there's no leadership
coming from Washington.
Spellings told me, "We need to engage the general public around
this crisis because people do not turn on their TV sets and see any
Russian satellites up there. How do you make this compelling for the
One answer clearly would be for the president to take it on and propose
a major initiative to upgrade math and science education, research and
foreign language instruction. First, though, he'd have to understand
that there's a problem. TOP OF PAGE
The state chapter of the National Education Association thinks it is
a terrible idea for teachers to be tested for competence. Better hope
the kids don't catch wind of this. It'll be mayhem in the classroom
come test time.
Under rules laid down by the No Child Left Behind Act, about 200 New Hampshire elementary school teachers must pass competency tests.
Intolerable, claims the teachers union.
"Elementary teachers in New Hampshire are already highly qualified," said Grace Jeffrey
Nelson, public education coordinator for NEA-NH. "They shouldn't
have to be doing these hoops to prove it."
OK. Then what hoops should they do?
The No Child Left Behind Act was a further usurpation of state authority,
predicated on the doling out of federal money. While it is outrageous
that the federal government has gained so much control over education,
it is understandable that he who pays the piper wants to have a say
in calling the tunes.
Had the states not invited Washington
into their schoolhouses, Washington
would have no say in how those schools are run. And had teachers unions
not successfully blocked measures at the state level to hold their members
accountable, this provision of NCLB would not have been deemed necessary.
TOP OF PAGE
WASHINGTON While sleek crime-scene TV shows have turned
students on to forensic science, an investigation of today's high school
laboratories shows that reality isn't so flattering.
Most of the labs are of such poor quality that they don't follow basic
principles of effective science teaching, said a report released Monday
by the private National Research Council, a prominent adviser to government
leaders on matters of science and engineering.
The typical lab is an isolated add-on that lacks clear goals, does not
engage students in discussion and fails to illustrate how science methods
lead to knowledge, the report said.
Also contributing to the problem: teachers who aren't prepared to run
labs, state exams that don't measure lab skills, wide disparities in
the quality of equipment and a simple lack of consensus over what "laboratory"
means in the school environment.
Even the way class time and space are organized in high schools may
be limiting progress, the study found.
"It's on target," said Gerry Wheeler, executive director of
the National Science Teachers Association and a former high school physics
teacher. "There's a lack of clarity about why we're doing things.
And we can't measure how useful labs are unless we have that clarity."
Successful lab time is critical because it bolsters students' science
literacy and, more broadly, can help inspire the next wave of scientists,
the report said.
The review amounts to the latest warning over the state of science in
the United States. Business groups whose members have tens of millions
of workers recently announced a campaign to prod the nation into improving
math and science education, wary of slipping U.S. competitiveness in the world.
Criticisms of science labs are not new, but teachers say the report,
coming with the imprimatur of the National Research Council, could give
the matter a boost of urgency.
"For literally 150 years, laboratories have been the sacred cows
of science education," said Susan Singer, chairwoman of the committee
that wrote the report and professor of biology at CarletonCollege.
"Nobody has stopped to question what the value added is, or how
we should go about using labs to improve learning. We haven't asked
the right questions."
Most students take science classes during three of the four high school
years, participating in labs about once a week in biology, chemistry
or physics courses.
During lab time, students are supposed to be mastering subject matter,
developing scientific reasoning and understanding the complexity of
work involving observation, the report said. Students also should be
developing teamwork abilities and cultivating an interest in science,
In his high school lab in Rogers, Ark., chemistry teacher Steve Long said every activity has
a clear purpose. Sometimes experiments on chemical reactions are done
at the start of a lesson to hook students; sometimes they are done at
the end to test a theory.
But Long said many science teachers are limited by old lab equipment,
limited money, large class sizes and infrequent training on how to be
better lab instructors.
"This is a problem that nobody's been willing to address. Now there's
a flag out there that we can't ignore," Long said of the report.
Overall, research on high school labs is inadequate, making it difficult
to draw conclusions on how to fix the problems, the report said. It
recommended no specific policies, calling instead for more research
and posing questions for leaders to consider.
Teachers, school boards and test writers all have responsibility to
make changes, said Wheeler, the teachers association official.
NRC report conclusions
- Researchers and educators do not agree on how to define high school
science laboratories or on what their purpose is, hampering the accumulation
of research on how to improve labs.
- Labs should be designed with clear outcomes in mind and sequenced
into the flow of class instruction. They should cover science content
and process, and foster student discussion.
- The quality of lab experiences is poor for most students.
- Improving high school teachers' capacity to lead labs is essential.
This would require major changes in undergraduate science education
and more comprehensive support for teachers.
- The organization of most high schools impedes them from improving
- State science standards are often interpreted as requiring teachers
to cover an extensive list of topics, which discourages them from devoting
time on effective lab lessons.
- State science tests are often not designed to measures skills learned
during labs. TOP OF PAGE
Bush pushes very
President's comments embolden anti-evolutionists
Joe Garofoli, Chronicle Staff Writer, 8/8/05
The real impact of President Bush weighing in on the national debate
over how to teach the origins of life may be felt in the classroom,
where much of the anti-evolutionary lobbying is done under the radar.
One tactic is for a student or parent to present the teacher with a
list that's popular in conservative circles called, "Ten questions
to ask your biology teacher."
The result, observers say, is that some teachers fear even mentioning
"That's what people would somewhat jokingly call it," said
Al Janulaw, who spent more than 30 years teaching science in elementary
and middle schools. For the past six he has been a SonomaStateUniversity instructor teaching student teachers how to teach science.
The White House entered one of the country's most politically charged
red- and-blue battles last week when Bush was asked at a news conference
about his views on evolution and intelligent design -- a critique that
says Charles Darwin's natural selection theory doesn't explain some
features of the natural world.
"I felt like both sides ought to be properly taught," Bush
said. "I think that part of education is to expose people to different
schools of thought."
The mere fact that Bush mentioned intelligent design on the same footing
as evolutionary teaching is being seen as a huge moral boost for anti-Darwin
Although California schools are not in the center of the debate, as are
schools in other parts of the country, some of the state's science teachers
are apprehensive and see Bush's comments as an unwelcome intrusion of
religion into the science curriculum.
Supporters of intelligent design say some elements of the natural world
"are best explained as the product of an intelligent cause rather
than an undirected process such as natural selection," said John
West of the Discovery Institute.
But defenders of traditional evolutionary theory say intelligent design
is really a euphemism for creationism. If there's an intelligent design,
they say, then there must be an intelligent designer. Or creator.
"Our guys here were calling it 'Creationism Lite,' " said
California Superintendent of Public Instruction Jack O'Connell. He said
evolutionary theory is tightly interwoven throughout California's science teaching standards and is not in danger of
changing at the statewide level, where policy is crafted.
But many of the attacks on teaching evolution are largely unreported,
and are raised in scattered school board meetings and classrooms.
One member of the California Science Teachers Association said the issue
is most likely to come up in more conservative Southern California school districts.
"There are teachers who avoid teaching evolution -- or put it off
until the end of the curriculum so if they don't get to it, they can
skip it," said longtime teacher Judy Scotchmoor, a board member
of the association. She said she was speaking only for herself.
"This (evolution controversy) is a very, very weird situation that
we're in," she said. "It's a game that we (science teachers)
don't know how to play. It's 'he said, she said,' and we're used to
proving things scientifically.
UC Berkeley biology Professor David Lindberg tells the story of a Christian
pastor who appeared at the classroom of a ContraCostaCounty teacher on the first day of school.
The pastor had a simple question for the teacher: "How do you plan
to teach biology this year?"
The implication of such visits to teachers, according to Lindberg and
other evolutionary theory defenders: You'd better at least mention intelligent
design or some other critique of evolution or you'll have to answer
to some angry parents or other clergy. Or possibly the school board.
Or a court.
Even though Bush's science adviser, John H. Marburger III, downplayed
the president's remarks by telling the New York Times that "evolution
is the cornerstone of modern biology" and "intelligent design
is not a scientific concept," others were pleased to hear the remarks
coming from the nation's bully pulpit.
"We're happy that he said that," said West of the Seattle-based
Discovery Institute, one of the nation's leading think tanks in the
fight to include Darwinian challenges in the classroom.
West said his organization "isn't pushing for intelligent design;
what we are pushing for is for the scientific criticism of Darwin's theory" of all kinds.
Conservative scholars and legal theorists supporting the president's
position -- it is a favorite of evangelical Christians -- cast this
as a free speech issue, and they feel that their side is not getting
equal play in the nation's public schools.
After Bush's remarks, more than 95 percent of the 78,000-plus votes
cast in an online poll offered by the conservative American Family Association
say "students should be exposed to the theory of intelligent design
in public schools" as opposed to "shield(ing) them" from
However, 54 percent of 50,000-plus respondents to an America Online
poll opposed teaching intelligent design.
"This is about critical thinking," said Brad Dacus, president
of the Pacific Justice Institute, a Sacramento organization that generally defends conservative positions
in cases involving religious freedom issues. "And critical thinking
has nothing to do with theology.
"This shows the degree of close-mindedness academics have when
it comes to challenges like this."
Intelligent design has been gaining political support in school districts
in several states, but the vast majority of the nation's scientists,
starting with the president of the National Academy of Sciences, says
intelligent design is not even worthy of being compared to the theory
of evolution on a scientific level.
"The president and most people in this country don't understand
how science works," said Lindberg, chair of UC Berkeley's Department
of Integrative Biology and curator for the UC Museum of Paleontology,
which created a Web site, evolution.berkeley.edu, to help teachers fend
off the attacks of evolutionary challengers.
"Words like 'theory' and 'hypothesis' mean something to scientists.
Gravity is a theory. Evolution is a theory," he said. "Science
is not a democracy. We don't vote on what theory we like best.
"And I have to say that we, as scientists, have not done a good
job explaining to people how science works.'
The Bay Area is home to big thinkers on both sides of this debate --
including one of the leading proponents of intelligent design, UC Berkeley
law Professor Phillip Johnson, and evolutionary teaching's defenders
at the NationalCenter for Science Education in Oakland -- but few believe that intelligent design has made
significant inroads in California.
In Roseville, parent and attorney Larry Caldwell has been fighting
for two years -- so far without success -- to have "the scientific
weaknesses of evolutionary theory" included in the public schools
there. Dacus said he's fielded calls from school board members in a
dozen different districts over the past year or so inquiring about how
evolution is taught.
But state schools chief O'Connell said intelligent design is "not
an issue in California. It just hasn't come up."
When told about teachers avoiding the e-word, O'Connell said, "That's
"What (Bush) is doing is divisive, something to take people's attention
away from all the other things going on with schools," he said.
"Why isn't he talking about funding issues, or class size or,"
O'Connell said, pausing, "Do you want me to go on?" TOP OF PAGE
TEWKSBURY, Mass. -- A high school freshman died after she was tossed
in the air during a cheerleading routine and landed chest-down in her
teammates' arms, authorities said.
Ashley Burns, 14, complained of abdominal pain and had trouble breathing
shortly after the stunt, police Chief Alfred P. Donovan said.
"She said she thought she had the wind knocked out of her,"
he said. "She was talking, but her condition worsened rapidly."
Paramedics took Burns to a hospital in Lowell, where she died. An autopsy was to be conducted to determine
the cause of death.
Burns and her teammates were practicing a stunt in which the other girls
held her by one foot and tossed her in the air. She was supposed to
twirl twice before landing on her back in the arms of her teammates,
but Burns did not rotate fully and landed instead on her stomach, said
her coach, Julie Brown.
James Deveney, principal of the middle school Burns attended until June,
said she missed part of the last school year with an illness. A neighbor
who said she was speaking for the girl's family said Burns had her appendix
removed in the spring. Linda Michaud said that Burns otherwise was fine.
Linda Bernis, co-owner of the East Elite Cheer Gym where the girls were
practicing, declined to comment pending the outcome of the investigation.
"Our sympathy is with the family right now," she said.
Burns was an incoming freshman at MedfordVocational-TechnicalHigh
and had cheered for years on a Pop Warner team. She had just made the
team at MedfordHigh
which shares sports with Burns' high school. TOP OF PAGE
court upholds Virginia law requiring Pledge of Allegiance in schools
By Larry O'Dell, The Associated Press, 8/11/05 RICHMOND, Va. An appeals court on Wednesday upheld a Virginia law that requires public schools to lead a daily recitation
of the Pledge of Allegiance, rejecting a claim that its reference to
God was an unconstitutional promotion of religion.
A suit filed by Edward Myers of Sterling, Va., a father of three, raised the objection to the phrase
"one nation under God."
A three-judge panel of the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that
the pledge is a patriotic exercise, not an affirmation of religion similar
to a prayer.
"Undoubtedly, the pledge contains a religious phrase, and it is
demeaning to persons of any faith to assert that the words 'under God'
contain no religious significance," Judge Karen Williams wrote.
"The inclusion of those two words, however, does not alter the
nature of the pledge as a patriotic activity."
Myers' attorney, David Remes, said the 4th Circuit judges failed to
examine the pledge's effect on children.
"The problem is that young school children are quite likely to
view the pledge as affirming the existence of God and national subordination
to God," Remes said. "The reference to God is one of the few
things in the pledge that children understand."
Remes said he and his client had not yet discussed whether to appeal
to the U.S. Supreme Court.
A spokeswoman for state Attorney General Judith Williams Jagdmann did
not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Three years ago, a federal appeals court in California sided with another father who had argued that requiring
the Pledge of Allegiance in public schools was unconstitutional because
of the words "under God." However, the U.S. Supreme Court
dismissed that case last year, saying Michael Newdow lacked standing
to sue on behalf of his young daughter because he didn't have custody
Newdow, an atheist, has since filed suit against four Sacramento-area
school districts on behalf several atheist children and their families. TOP OF PAGE
magazine make deal
District gains control over publication's editorial content in exchange
for mailing list
By ANTONIO PLANAS, Las
has reached an agreement with Nevada Family Magazine, giving the district
control over the publication's editorial content in exchange for a mailing
list of more than 200,000 parents.
A representative of the magazine said the mailing list will be used
only to distribute the magazine.
But an official with the American Civil Liberties Union of Nevada said
the district is overstepping its boundaries by using personal information
for commercial purposes.
Parents with children in the district should be receiving the magazine
within the next few weeks.
"We have so many programs, and this will give us a means to promote
those programs," Trustee Sheila Moulton said. "Schools do
a good job of individually informing parents of what's going on at their
schools. But this will carry a district message as well."
The magazine's first issue will contain the district's annual Back to
School Reporter. The section offers information about the district,
such as which schools enforce a dress code, and a telephone directory
of district officials.
The district has mailed the Back to School Reporter since the early
The magazine also contains feature stories written by officials in the
district's communication office.
District spokeswoman Pat Nelson said the district will have editorial
control over the magazine and its advertisements.
She said the district spent $68,000 last school year printing and mailing
the newsletter. However, under the agreement with the magazine's publisher,
Mach One Media, the district agreed to pay the magazine a one-time fee
The agreement covers the expense of printing 32 pages of district-related
materials in its August issue. Nevada Family's first issue will be distributed
to 190,000 households. Mach One will also distribute an additional 40,000
copies of La Familia, the Spanish version of the magazine.
The district's contract with the magazine runs for two years. Additional
issues of the magazine will not cost the district anything, Nelson said.
She added that the district's contract calls for information about ClarkCounty schools to occupy pages of the magazine's content in future issues.
Nelson said the next issues of the magazine will be distributed to district
parents in November and January. After the January issue is published,
district officials will determine whether it's feasible for the magazine
to publish on a monthly basis, Nelson said.
Mach One publisher Scott Brown said his organization has an agreement with its
mailing house to only use school district addresses to distribute the
two versions of the magazine.
"They are absolutely not allowed to distribute, sell or mail that
list to anybody else," Brown said.
But Allen Lichtenstein, general counsel for the ACLU of Nevada, said
distributing the list is an invasion of privacy to parents and students
"They are used as a target audience for a magazine that is essentially
a commercial magazine," Lichtenstein said. "They are using
student information for commercial purposes and that is just wrong."
A provision of the district's regulation dealing with student addresses
states that "directory information is not generally considered
harmful or an invasion of privacy if disclosed." The provision
goes on to say that if parents or students object to their addresses
being made available they must file a complaint in writing.
Lichtenstein said the policy is unfair because it assumes that parents
and students wouldn't object to their addresses being made available. TOP OF PAGE
Kansas moves to stem role of evolution in teaching
By Carey Gillam, Reuters, 8/11/05
PARK, Kan.- After months
of debate over science and religion, the Kansas Board of Education has
tentatively approved new state science standards that weaken the role
evolution plays in teaching about the origin of life.
The 10-member board must still take a final vote, expected in either
September or October, but a 6-4 vote on Tuesday that approved a draft
of the standards essentially cemented a victory for conservative Christian
board members who say evolution is largely unproven and can undermine
religious teachings about the origins of life on earth.
"We think this is a great development ... for the academic freedom
of students," said John West, senior fellow of the Discovery Institute,
which supports intelligent design theory.
Intelligent design proposes that some features of the natural world
are best explained as products of a considered intent as opposed to
a process of natural selection.
The board is sending its drafted standards to a Denver-based education
consultant before a final vote, planned for either September or October.
If they win final approval, Kansas will join Minnesota, Ohio and
New Mexico, all of which have adopted critical analysis of evolution
in the last four years.
The new science standards would not eliminate the teaching of evolution
entirely, nor would they require that religious views, also known as
creationism, be taught, but it would encourage teachers to discuss various
viewpoints and eliminate core evolution theory as required curriculum.
Critics say the moves are part of a continuing national effort by conservative
Christians to push their views into the public education process.
"This is neo-creationism, trying to avoid the legal morass of trying
to teach creationism overtly and slip it in through the backdoor,"
said Eugenie Scott, executive director of the NationalCenter for Science Education.
Kansas itself has been grappling with the issue for years,
garnering worldwide attention in 1999 when the state school board voted
to de-emphasize evolution in science classes.
That was reversed in 2001 with new members elected to the school board.
But conservatives again gained the majority in elections in 2004, leading
to the newest attacks on evolution.
The science standards the board is revising act as guidelines for teachers
about how and what to teach students.
In May, the board of education sponsored a courtroom-style debate over
evolution that saw lawyers for each side cross-examining "witnesses"
and taking up issues such as the age of the earth, fossil records and
beliefs that humans and are too intricately designed to not have a creator.
The hearings came 80 years after evolution was the subject of the famous
"Scopes" trial in Tennessee in which teacher John Thomas Scopes was accused of violating
a ban against teaching evolution. TOP OF PAGE
SACRAMENTO, California -- California's top school official and the state's
largest teachers union sued Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger on Tuesday to
restore $3.1 billion they claim is owed to public schools.
At issue is a deal school officials say was struck during a meeting
with the governor in December 2003, a month after he was sworn into
Educators said they agreed to accept $2 billion in cuts to help the
newly elected governor balance the 2004-05 state budget. To do that,
lawmakers had to suspend Proposition 98, the voter-approved funding
guarantee for schools.
In return, the governor promised schools would get more money if state
revenues increased more than expected, said Jack O'Connell, superintendent
of public instruction.
"Revenues did go up, and according to our agreement with the governor
public education should have been one of the beneficiaries," O'Connell
Instead, O'Connell said, schools were shorted an additional $3.1 billion
over two years.
Schwarzenegger has denied there was a promise to share the excess revenue
with schools. Because the funding guarantee was suspended, the schools
were not entitled to a share of the billions of unanticipated income
tax revenue California took in, his administration said.
In the budget approved earlier this summer, the governor used about
$4 billion in unanticipated revenue to pay down some of the state's
debt, fund road improvements and reimburse cities and counties for money
they lost when he repealed an increase in the vehicle license fee.
In the lawsuit, O'Connell, the California Teachers Association and some
parents ask the court to find the state out of compliance with the law
and state constitution.
The 2005-06 spending plan, signed by Schwarzenegger in July, invests
nearly $60 billion in schools -- more than half the $117.3 billion state
budget. TOP OF PAGE
The message to the kids: Bus safety is so vital that even the principal
"If I can work with my students to let them know I expect them
to behave -- and I'm going to find out when they don't -- then we can
have a little chat and prevent a bigger problem from happening,"
said Susan Masterson, principal at Monroe, in south-central Wisconsin.
In Masterson's School
District of Janesville, as in other school systems nationwide, preventing disruptions
on the bus is just part of a broad campaign to keep students safe. Background
checks for drivers, expanded safety features on buses, training to help
drivers communicate with children -- all of it is being done to lower
the risks of accidents.
A recent string of deadly incidents involving school buses, from Tennessee to Virginia to Missouri, has again pushed safety concerns to the fore. Yet bus
travel remains the safest way, by far, for students to get to school,
according to the Transportation Research Board.
Each year, about 800 school-age children are killed in motor vehicle
crashes during school travel hours. Virtually all those fatalities --
98 percent of them -- involve kids who drive to school, get rides in
cars, walk or bike. And more than half of those deaths occur when the
least experienced drivers, teenagers, are behind the wheel.
About 2 percent of the children killed, 20 students a year, were in
"The safest way to improve a school transportation program is to
put more kids in school buses," said Robin Leeds, an industry specialist
with the National School Transportation Association, which represents
the private school-bus industry. "It's clear, statistically."
But that can be a tough sell.
Roughly half of the U.S. school population -- 25 million students -- get to school
or school-related events by bus. The rest favor other means, including
older students who want cars to go to work or other places after school.
Often parents are the ones who want their kids to have the flexibility
of driving, Leeds
"School buses aren't taxis. You can't run them on demand,"
said. "And when kids want to go to the mall or to a job, that's
The National PTA has given schools and parents 10 ways to encourage
younger kids to "be cool" by following the rules of bus safety.
Among those tips: Stand back from the curb, cross at least 10 feet in
front of a bus, stay in your seat, don't shout, and obey the driver.
What's missing, according to some transportation and security officials,
is training for bus drivers on how to respond to emergencies that have
little to do with traffic safety.
More than one in three school-based police officers say violent incidents
on school buses are rising, according to an informal survey by the National
Association of School Resource Officers. Almost two in three of those
officers said that school transportation workers had not received any
training over the last few years in how to respond to such emergencies.
Kenneth Trump, president of National School Safety and Security Services,
a consulting company, said drivers often have been given no preparation
for what they may encounter: severe behavior among kids, irate parents,
hostage situations, even a terrorist situation.
Meanwhile, debate continues over whether buses should be required to
have seat belts, as they are in a handful of states.
The National Coalition for School Bus Safety calls the lack of seat
belts on buses in most school districts a "grave oversight"
and a lost chance to instill a lifesaving habit.
Yet the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration found in 2002
that lap belts had little if any benefit in reducing serious or deadly
injuries in head-on school bus crashes -- and could even increase the
chances of injury among young passengers.
The combined use of lap and shoulder belts on school buses could provide
some benefit, the agency said.
Masterson, the Wisconsin school principal, says the people who get too little
credit in the safety discussion are the bus drivers themselves. They
often contend with bad weather, stressful traffic and rambunctious children
before the school day even starts.
"If children come to school and they've had a very difficult ride
on the bus, they come not ready to learn," she said. "The
bus drivers are such important people. They set the stage. It really
behooves a district to put energy into making a positive bus ride."
SCHOOL BUS SAFETY
Number of public school buses: 450,000
Number of miles traveled by school buses annually: 4.3 billion
Number of children who ride school buses annually: 25 million
Number of school-age children killed annually in motor vehicle crashes
during school travel hours: 800
Percentage of those school-age deaths involving school buses: 2 percent
Number of children killed annually in crashes involving school buses:
Number of children injured annually during school travel hours: 152,000
Percentage of those injuries that involve school bus accidents: 4 percent
Percentage of the nation's 40,000 annual motor vehicle deaths that are
school-age children during school travel hours: 2 percent
Sources: Transportation Research Board; National Highway Traffic Safety Administration TOP OF PAGE
U.S. Targets Sex Abuse Of Exchange Students
By Robin Wright and Lori Aratani, Washington Post Staff Writers, 8/12/05
Responding to public outcry about sexual abuse of foreign students in
the United States, the Bush administration is today proposing new rules
to screen host families and regulate agencies that sponsor some 28,000
high school exchange students, almost all minors, every year.
Although foreign students have been coming to the United States under
formal exchange programs for more than a half-century, no sponsor has
been required to keep figures on sexual abuse or report molestation
cases to the federal government. Now they will.
Yet the rules could not have prevented three cases of abuse now in the
biology teacher Andrew Powers sneaked into the bedroom of the 17-year-old
German girl living with his family in the middle of the night last December
and tried to get her to perform oral sex, according to a police affidavit.
When his wife wasn't home, Powers also "frequently" roamed
the house naked in front of the student, the affidavit adds. Powers,
who has resigned, is to be sentenced next week after pleading guilty
to second-degree assault and fourth-degree sexual offenses. His attorney
declined to comment.
The host father of a 16-year-old German girl in Plainwell, Mich., was
charged in April with installing hidden cameras in her bedroom, first
under her blankets, then in a dollhouse, to capture her naked. Dale
Lacoss will be sentenced this month after pleading guilty to distributing
the image of an unclothed person and possession of child sexually abusive
And this week, the coordinator for foreign exchange students in Sherwood, Ark., was charged with first-degree sexual assault for rape
of three male European exchange students over the past year. In one
case, during his wife's absence, Doyle Meyer Jr. held a slumber party
for students, provided them with alcohol and then masturbated one of
the minors against his will, according to the police affidavit. The
student was reluctant to file charges until he heard about others Meyer
Meyer could not be reached for comment.
Even under the new vetting procedures, the cases in Maryland, Michigan
and Arkansas would not have been averted because the abusers had
no criminal record and were not on the national offenders registry.
And in the Gaithersburg case, Powers had passed a criminal background screening
by the MontgomeryCounty school system.
Foreign students are among the most vulnerable minors because they usually
do not know U.S. laws, are unfamiliar with customs, are dependent on
host families or sponsors, don't know what to do when abused or are
afraid to act, according to Lt. Frank Baker of the Allegan County Sheriff's
Office, who has been involved in the Michigan case.
"For a predator, this is the ideal situation," Baker said.
The proposed rules published today in the Federal Register, which are
likely to go into effect after 30 days of public comment, come as the
Bush administration pushes student exchanges as a centerpiece of its
diplomatic outreach to improve the U.S. image abroad.
"I'm a huge proponent of exchanges, student exchanges, cultural
exchanges, university exchanges. We talk a lot about public diplomacy,"
said Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice at a meeting with her staff
days after taking over in January. "It's extremely important that
we get our message out, but it's also the case that we should not have
a monologue with other people. It has to be a conversation, and you
can't do that without exchanges and openness."
A State Department spokesman described incidents of assault as "very
rare." But groups advocating tougher rules to protect foreign students
-- who can pay $6,000 or more to sponsoring agencies -- said most cases
Frank Swiderski's abuse of a 17-year-old Vietnamese exchange student
was detected in 2003, when an Eastlake, Ohio, police officer lectured to the boy's health class about
sexual assault. The student asked if the practices by his host father
-- nude massages, fondling and forcing him to shave Swiderski's pubic
hair -- were normal.
At Swiderski's home, police found photos of nude boys -- many of whom
appeared to be exchange students and some pictured with the former high
school teacher -- that dated to the 1970s, according to Karen Kowall
of the Lake County prosecutor's office. Swiderski was convicted and
sentenced to 2 1/2 years for gross sexual imposition and pandering obscenity
involving a minor, but attempts to contact former exchange students
and get them to come forward failed, Kowall said.
Most cases reported in recent years involve host parents or personnel
with sponsoring agencies.
In March 2004, California social studies teacher Peter Ruzzo was sentenced to
three years in prison for having sex with a 15-year-old German student
living in his home. Ruzzo told the victim "when he saw her foreign-exchange
photo that he considered it a challenge, even before she got here, to
have sex with her," Kelly Hansen, deputy district attorney in the
case, told the North County Times. Ruzzo pleaded guilty to six counts
of lewd acts with a child and one count of penetration with a foreign
The State Department decided that publishing the regulations was worthwhile
even if they do not eliminate the problem. "We have had a lot of
interest in this from concerned citizens. We heard their concerns, examined
the situation fully and decided that if we can build in one extra bit
of protection, it would behoove us to do it," said Stanley Colvin,
director of the State Department office of exchange coordination.
Under the proposed rules, all adult members of host families and personnel
in sponsoring groups will have to be vetted through the sex offender
registry and for criminal history. Sponsors will have to report any
allegation of sexual misconduct to local authorities and the State Department.
"If they don't report, we'll close their program," Colvin
In their orientation, all foreign students also will be advised on inappropriate
sexual contact and what they can do if anyone makes an abusive overture.
"We want to be able to resolve any suggestions that this has been
underreported," Colvin added. Because there is no database, "we're
going to make our best effort to find out one way or another,"
Some groups, such as Bethesda-based Youth for Understanding, have been
doing background checks for years. YFU uses the Internet to do a name
check of all host family members. But Reed Rago, YFU's director of development,
conceded that the system is not foolproof.
Concerned parents and others last month formed the Committee for Safety
of Foreign Exchange Students, based in Oceanside, Calif., to provide guidance and protection against "a
pattern of abuse that is making headlines around the world," it
said in a news release.
The issue is also on the agenda for the first time at the October annual
conference of the Council on Standards for International Educational
Travel, a trade group established in 1984 and based in Alexandria. The group offers voluntary accreditation for most of
the 100-plus exchange programs in the United States.
States have done little to address the issue. Three times since 2001,
Oregon state Sen. Floyd Prozanski has introduced legislation
requiring criminal background checks on host families but has failed
to get the bill out of committee.
"For a young person, there's been no check on who families are.
It's very unfortunate that we have a lot of individuals who are looking
for opportunities" to exploit youngsters, said Prozanski, whose
wife was a foreign exchange student in Argentina in the 1970s. "Unfortunately, it happens more frequently
than we want to admit."
Penalties for sexual assault vary but often are not steep.
In 2003, David Goodhead of Riverside, Calif., pleaded guilty to abusing a 16-year-old Danish student
living with him during a trip to YosemiteNational
Goodhead was sentenced to 36 months' probation and a $1,500 fine.
In July 2004, Rotary Club exchange student coordinator James Anthony
Dillon was sentenced to 30 months' probation, with 18 months' home confinement
with an electronic monitor and a $2,000 fine, for three acts of molestation
of a 17-year-old European student. As in many cases eventually reported,
an American third party went to authorities. TOP OF PAGE
Maine offers free Internet tied to lunch program By David Sharp, Associated
PORTLAND, Maine --Former Gov. Angus King, who launched the initiative
that put computers on the laps of middle schoolers, announced Thursday
another program aimed at eliminating the so-called digital divide: free
home Internet for kids who receive free or reduced-cost school lunches.
King raised $850,000 through the Maine Learning Technology Foundation
and worked with Great Works Internet to create the program aimed at
placing low-income middle school students on equal footing with others
who already have Internet access.
The Internet service provider also agreed to offer discounts for high-speed
service for seventh- and eighth-graders and teachers who are part of
the laptop program.
"It helps to realize the promise of equity that was one of the
great ideas at the beginning. Now every seventh- and eighth-grader in
Maine not only has access at school but also access to the
Internet and all of the information it contains at home," King
The program applies to all of the state's 35,000 middle schoolers, as
well as some ninth- and 10th-graders who have laptops issued to them
Great Works Internet's dialup Internet access normally costs $19.95.
Students who participate in the free or reduced lunch program would
get home dialup for free, and the rest could get it for half price.
The Maine Learning Technology Foundation is paying $8.33 per student
under the program, King said.
Unlimited broadband Internet through GWI starts at $34.95. Students
or teachers who have a laptop can sign up for broadband service for
$20 to $25. Biddeford-based GWI, which serves all of Maine and part of New Hampshire, is offering broadband discounts as an in-kind contribution,
It's unclear how many students are eligible for the free Internet but
it's likely to be in the thousands because 25 percent of Maine students participate in the lunch program. The program
has been in the works for 1 1/2 years, King said.
Chris Toy, principal at FreeportMiddle
said 20 percent of his 400 students would qualify for free Internet.
He agreed with King that the Internet component marks another step toward
ultimate goal of the original laptop program.
"One of the key pieces of that initiative was to level the playing
field, so to speak," Toy said. "This does that."
Gov. John Baldacci has made expanding broadband access across the rural
state a priority. In January, he announced a "Connect Maine" plan to ensure that 90 percent of Maine communities have broadband service by 2010.
"We've been pushing universal broadband and universal cell coverage.
We want to be able to have Maine
citizens plug in anywhere," he said.
In Augusta, King was joined by Maine Education Commissioner Sue
Gendron and Great Works Internet founder and CEO Fletcher Kittredge
at the program's formal announcement Thursday afternoon at the CrossStateOfficeBuilding.
Maine's first-in-the-nation statewide laptop program was first
proposed by King in 2000. The $37 million program put laptop computers
in the hands of all seventh- and eighth-graders in public schools.
Although the middle school program has been a success, it has fallen
short of King's vision of laptops for all high school students as well.
Last fall, about three dozen school districts purchased laptops for
ninth-graders. This year, the state implemented a school funding formula
that encourages school districts to buy laptops, but it's unclear how
many high schools have done so.
After leaving office in 2003, King has been raising private donations
to expand technology in classrooms.
In addition, the popular two-term independent serves as counsel with
Bernstein Shur Sawyer & Nelson in Portland,
teaches at BowdoinCollege and works with Leaders LLC, a Portland firm that matches buyers and sellers of Maine businesses. TOP OF PAGE
While debates over so-called alternatives to evolution play out across
the country, those controversial concepts have not found a place so
far in the science portion of the influential test known as the
nations report card.
The board that sets policy for that test, the National Assessment of
Educational Progress, was presented Aug. 5 with a draft of the framework
that will act as a basis for a revised version of the science exam.
That draft document offers a thorough treatment of Charles Darwins
widely accepted scientific theory of evolution, and references its core
principles, such as natural selection, common descent, and mutation,
as a basis for testing students at the 12th grade level. It makes no
mention of alternatives meant to challenge that theory, such as creationism,
or intelligent design, the controversial concept that the
natural world, including the origins of human life, may have been guided
by an unnamed, possibly supernatural creator. That concept is being
pushed by school officials in several states, mostly notably in Dover, Pa.
Evolution is the consequence of natural selection and differential
reproduction, the draft NAEP science framework says. Natural
selection and common descent provide the scientific explanation for
the history of life on Earth as depicted in the fossil record, as indicated
by chemical similarities, and as evidence within the diversity of living
That draft, developed by two committees whose members included scientists,
state officials, testing experts, teachers, and others, is expected
to be revised before it is released for public comment in October. It
is scheduled to be voted on in final form by the National Assessment
Government Board, which sets policy for the NAEP, in November. Frameworks
and subject-matter tests are regularly updated by the board, known as
The science framework will eventually be used to craft a new version
of the NAEP science test for 4th, 8th, and 12th graders. That test will
be administered for the first time in 2009, replacing the current edition,
which has been in place since 1996 and also covers evolution extensively.
Younger Bush: No Comment
Senta Raizen, who co-chaired a committee that worked on the framework,
told governing board members that the draft document was guided by two
of the most highly regarded sets of educational standards available,
the National Science Education Standards, published by the congressionally
chartered National Research Council; and Benchmarks for Science Literacy,
published by the American Association for the Advancement of Science.
Both documents treat evolution as a central foundation of scientific
study. Ms. Raizen is the director of the NationalCenter for Improving Science Education, in Arlington, Va. That center is a division of WestEd, a nonprofit research
and development organization based in San Francisco.
Our instruction from scientists was to base [the framework] on
sound science, and thats what weve done, Ms. Raizen
told board members. Before making her presentation, she added that added
that she had no sense that board members were not satisfied
with the draft document.
Sitting only a few paces away from Ms. Raizen during the discussion
was Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, who joined the governing board last year.
Just last week, the governors brother waded into the debate over
evolutions place in the classroom when President Bush told a group
of Texas reporters that he believed schools should be allowed to teach
intelligent design alongside Darwins theory.
After leaving the session, Gov. Bush declined to comment on whether
he believes intelligent design has a place in public school classrooms.
NAGB Chairman Darvin M. Winick told others on the panel that he hoped
they would actively seek outside comments on the science framework.
The board followed that process before adopting a new framework for
reading last year, he said. Those discussions occasionally touched on
the ongoing controversy over how best to teach reading, a debate commonly
known as the reading wars. But they also resulted in a stronger
NAEP test in that subject, Mr. Winick contended.
My serious plea for all of you [is] to see that these documents
are circulated to scientists, as well as the general public, Mr.
Softening on Seniors?
In other action, board members said they were not likely to pursue a
mandatory, state-by-state NAEP test at the 12th grade level at this
time, as the Bush administration had sought. Instead, board members
said they will ask their staff to explore two other options: conducting
tests of high school seniors at the state level on a voluntary basis,
and implementing such tests on a pilot basis, possibly for
as few as eight to 10 states.
NAEP is currently given to 12th graders as part of a more limited, nationwide
sample. Board members have expressed worries about making that test
mandatory for all states as a condition of receiving Title I fundsas
is currently the case for 4th and 8th gradepartly because of concerns
about low participation and motivation among high school seniors. Congress
has also not provided funding for such an expansion of the test in the
latest version of the fiscal 2006 budget. Mr. Winick said that budgetary
concerns and logistical worries about trying to craft a mandatory 12th
grade NAEP by 2007, as the board had originally discussed, factored
into board members thinking.
I dont think the interest in 12th grade NAEP has changed
any, Mr. Winick said, but it would appear the time schedule
has changed. It may or may not be the right time to have to make
a decision about the 12th grade NAEP now. TOP OF PAGE
Group Seeks Federal
Probe of Reading First Government initiative is working in schools, supporters
By Sean Cavanagh, 8/5/05
The Reading Recovery Council of North America, which represents a popular
nationwide program for struggling learners, has asked the U.S. Department
of Educations inspector general to investigate the agencys
signature reading initiative, known as Reading First.
In a letter written Aug. 4, the Reading Recovery organization requests
an examination of the way grants are awarded through the hugely influential
federal program, which has a $1 billion annual budget.
The request accuses the department, which oversees Reading First, of
supporting a quiet yet pervasive misinformation campaign
against the Reading Recovery program, despite what its supporters see
as its long-standing record of accomplishment. The letter echoes some
of the complaints lodged by another prominent reading group, the Success
for All Foundation, in June, as well as earlier assertions by other
There are a lot of organizations and people out there who are
looking at Reading First and its impact on children, Connie Briggs,
the Reading Recovery Councils president, said in an interview
last week. We felt like we had to take a stand.
Department spokeswoman Susan Aspey declined to comment in detail on
the councils letter. We stand by our program, she
said in an e-mail to Education Week.
Dictating the Curriculum?
The council, located in Columbus, Ohio, cites four areas of concern in its 10-page letter.
It charges that Reading First has systematically undermined
legal restrictions that forbid the federal government from dictating
state and school district curricula. A second complaint is that the
department has discouraged the one-to-one teacher-to-student instructional
approach favored by Reading Recovery.
The letter also accuses the Education Department of selectively implementing
Reading Firsts call for scientifically based research.
And finally, the council asserts that the federal agency has ignored
the research supporting Reading Recovery.
Despite the councils concerns, officials in many states have said
they are benefiting from the Reading First program. While they say that
solid data on the programs performance is limited, state officials
have reported gains in professional development, support services, and
instructional services through the program, which, as of earlier this
summer, had served an estimated 4,700 schools. Department officials
have also said they are seeing positive results at the state and local
Launched in 2002 as part of the No Child Left Behind Act, Reading First
is expected to guide the flow of as much as $6 billion in federal spending
over six years. A core tenet of the program is that only reading strategies
backed by solid, scientifically based research will receive federal
money. Under Reading First, states apply for grant funding from the
federal government to support reading programs. The money then flows
to selected schools and districts.
Yet the departments criteria for judging reading programs have
come under scrutiny from critics, who contend that it favors programs
with ties to a relatively small group of consultants and commercial
Critics also maintain that the criteria narrowly and inconsistently
define what programs are based on scientific research, rejecting strategies
with proven records of accomplishment.
Dollars and Doubt
Since its introduction in the United States in the mid-1980s, Reading Recovery has served more than
1 million elementary school children, and is in place in about 8,600
schools. The program focuses on struggling 1st graders, who work one-on-one
with teachers in daily 30-minute lessons for a 12- to 20-week period.
But critics say Reading Recovery pupils show little academic gain relative
to those in other programs. They charge that Reading Recovery is too
expensive, and does not focus enough on developing phonemic awarenessthe
understanding that words are composed of sounds and letters.
Reading Recovery advocates say their approach is backed by broad research,
some of which they cite in the letter to the Education Department. They
assert that the agency has spread doubt about Reading Recoverys
effectiveness. Ms. Briggs said critics undermined the program through
word of mouth, rather than through written or official policy.
In June, Success for All, based at JohnsHopkinsUniversity, requested an investigation of the federal program.
("Complaint Filed Against Reading Initiative," June 22, 2005)
Alan E. Farstrup, the executive director of the International Reading
Association, said despite complaints about Reading First, his own organizations
research had found quite a bit of variability in the types
of strategies the federal program supports.
Mr. Farstrup, whose Newark, Del.-based organization represents reading
teachers, said Reading Recoverys complaint would most likely draw
a wait-and-see response from reading advocates.
Clearly, its an expensive program, but one that has an extensive
track record, Mr. Farstrup said about Reading Recovery. TOP OF PAGE
If you ask school district leaders in Montgomery County, Md., why they spend millions every year fortifying their
staff, they might well answer by pointing to ViersMillElementary
Tucked away among huge trees, Viers Mill serves a low-income pocket
of this famously wealthy county in the Washington suburbs. In the past few years, its home-grown leadership
team has overseen a striking rise in test scores, especially among its
substantial minority population. The school here exemplifies the districts
strategy of using its human-resources operations as a lever to improve
student achievement, particularly in its less-affluent neighborhoods.
As districts nationwide seek ways to ensure a sound education for all
children, MontgomeryCounty has drawn notice for its unusual concentration on human
resources. The 139,000-student district spends 3 percent of its annual
budgetor $50 million a yearon recruiting and developing
The approach appears to be yielding dividends. Test scores are rising
across the county, and performance gaps between students of various
racial and ethnic groups are narrowing. Thats because, experts
say, investing in choosing the right people and providing them with
the right kind of training builds a shared culture of language, goals,
Human resources is by far the weakest dimension of general management
in school systems, but it is potentially the highest value-added management
practice, said Richard F. Elmore, a professor of education at
HarvardUniversity. He has been studying MontgomeryCountys practices as part of a joint project with the
universitys business school.
Reworking the System
The MontgomeryCounty district had begun to improve its staff development
in the late 1990s. Then, when Superintendent Jerry D. Weast took the
helm in 1999, he reorganized the human-resources operations to better
link them to the districts aim of improving achievement.
In addition to overhauling the curriculum, providing training for educators
in teaching it, and funneling more help to needy schools, he set out
to strengthen the hiring, development, and support of all employees.
To bolster the front end of the human-resources system, the district
formed partnerships with local universities and regularly communicates
its needs, enabling education schools to recruit students who want to
teach in the districts high-need subject areas. Universities participating
in the partnerships agree to lower charges for the paraprofessionals,
teachers, and administrators pursuing advancement, and in some cases,
the district also foots part of the tuition bill.
The county moved up its hiring timelines, offering open contracts
to promising candidates for teaching jobs in April. It also honed its
demographic and forecasting operations so it can tell schools in early
spring about their fall staffing allocations, said Matthew A. Tronzano,
MontgomeryCountys associate superintendent for human resources.
Principals have broad authority to hire staff members who fit their
schools needs, Mr. Tronzano said. And to reverse a common national
pattern that sees less-qualified teachers disproportionately placed
in high-need schools, the highest-poverty schools in MontgomeryCounty consider only teacher-candidates who are considered
highly qualified under the federal No Child Left Behind Act.
As a result, all of the teachers at Viers Mill Elementary already meet
that definition, a year ahead of what the law requires.
Elsewhere in the district, Daniel J. Shea, the principal of QuinceOrchardHigh
in Gaithersburg, has seen the benefits of the change in the countys
The pools of teacher-candidates are better qualified than they
used to be, he said. And I dont have to scramble as
late in the summer to staff my building.
The district encourages schools to make hiring a collaborative staff
process to ensure a good fit. In a recent interview for a vacancy on
the 3rd grade team at Viers Mill, for instance, the teachers for that
grade asked questions of candidates and gave feedback to the schools
Training has been rebuilt, largely around coursework designed by Research
for Better Teaching Inc., the Acton, Mass.-based education consulting
group whose Skillful Teacher textbook is considered the bible
Administrators must study techniques enabling them to identify and support
good teaching. And teachers are encouraged to take a course based on
Skillful Teacher. In response to teacher demand, multiple versions of
the course have been developed to suit specific subjects, such as algebra.
Training in the districts curriculum is required, and is now aligned
to district goals and standards. Shelly H. Niverth, a 4th grade teacher
and award-winning 11-year veteran of Viers Mill Elementary, said clear
goals and indicators, and well-designed training, now enable teachers
to teach with the end in mind. The situation contrasts with
the one years ago, when Ms. Niverth felt she had little guidance on
what or how to teach.
She cited another improvement: the addition of a full-time staff-development
teacher in each building. The teacher-leaders customize district training
for their colleagues and help forge a shared sense of missionand
reduce teachers sense of isolationby building a teamwork
approach to teaching, she said.
The MontgomeryCounty school system demands continuous growth from its employees,
requiring them to have individual improvement plans that lay out their
goals and how they will reach them. The district envisions advancement
for educators as a lattice rather than a ladder. The idea
is that by offering positions such as a staff-development teacher, educators
can grow in their profession without disconnecting from the classroom.
Consulting teachers and principals are also involved in their own staff
development through mentoring novice colleagues and working with underperforming
ones to improve their practice.
A peer-review process analyzes the problems with new or struggling educators,
a reflection of Mr. Weasts weed and feed strategy:
Provide plenty of support and growth opportunities, but if those dont
yield results, its time to part ways.
Darlene A. Merry, the districts associate superintendent for organizational
development, said that between 2001 and 2004, 177 underperforming teachers
were dismissed, chose to leave, or didnt have their contracts
renewed, compared with only one between 1994 and 1999.
The districts approach could not have succeeded without cooperation
from union leaders, who are part of all key district decisions as members
of its leadership team. The teachers union spearheaded the peer-review
process as part of its larger bid to raise teacher quality.
Bonnie Cullison, the president of the 11,000-member Montgomery County
Education Association, said the affiliate of the National Education
Association can support the peer-review process because it ensured that
the district provides ample support for improvement before concluding
that some teachers are not well suited to their jobs.
Its not good for a union to say anyone can walk into a classroom
and teach, she said. It diminishes the work we do.
MontgomeryCounty officials believe that the attention to staff quality,
with all of its attendant expenses, ultimately pays off by building
a workforce that speaks a common language about education, has a clear
understanding of its mission, and is well prepared to carry it out.
Such a system, they say, is especially adept at grooming leaders because
they are steeped in the districts way of doing things.
Its important in Montgomery County that when you go into
a leadership position, youre like the Cadillacthat all we
need to do is polish you, Ms. Merry said.
That approach can make it harder for outsiders to break in, however.
Some graduates of Harvards graduate school of education who sought
positions in MontgomeryCounty not long ago were told by district officials that they
were hiring principals and assistant principals from within, and were
referred instead to the teaching pool.
Indeed, only four of the 83 new principals and assistant principals
in MontgomeryCounty in 2004-05 were hired from outside the system.
illustrates the districts method of selecting new school leaders.
Principal Matthew A. Devan taught at a Gaithersburg elementary school while getting his masters degree
in administration through one of the districts university partnerships.
After serving three years in the county as an assistant principal, Mr.
Devan came to Viers Mill in Silver
Spring for his principal internship with James Virga Jr., whod
been the schools principal for eight years, and is himself a product
of a university partnership, as is Assistant Principal Michelle Piket.
In July, Mr. Virga began a new job as the districts director of
school improvement services. Mr. Devan now sits at Mr. Virgas
old desk at Viers Mill.
Heavy investment in the staff is a pivotal piece of Superintendent Weasts
vision, but he said it must go hand in hand with the right supports
and a collaborative approach that recognizes the inherent complexity
of teaching. His hope is that the combination forges a strong commitment
to the work.
That is the only way you can sustain growth over time, despite
the outside weather, Mr. Weast said. TOP OF PAGE
In the three years that the Pinellas County, Fla., district has offered
its more than 7,800 teachers a performance bonus as mandated by the
state, exactly two have qualified and taken home the money.
To get a paycheck topped up by 5 percent, Pinellas teachers are required
to have had a hand in helping students raise their test scores by 120
percent of the expected increases for their grades. The teachers must
also be rated outstanding by their principals and demonstrate
they have gone beyond the ordinary, through awards, credentials, and
Though PinellasCounty, which includes St. Petersburg, may be an extreme, districts around the state have
fallen far short of what the Florida legislature envisioned when it required them to put
up 5 percent of their teacher-salary budgets for performance pay, starting
in 2003, according to F. Philip Handy, the chairman of the state board
As a result of the districts disappointing showing, Mr. Handy
said, the board will direct the state education department later this
month to make rules that hold districts to a higher standard.
We have a lot more that we can be doing to make sure, at the very
least, that the law will be implemented in the school districts more
effectively than it has been, he said.
The Florida state board is hardly alone in its ambition to launch
plans that pay teachers based more on their performance and less on
the criteria that have been the rule for decades: years of classroom
experience and graduate credits. At least two statesIowa and New Mexicohave devised systems that link performance to different
pay tiers, and Arizona
has also required districts to come up with ways of paying for performance.
But Florida may be unique in setting a fairly ambitious goal for performance
pay while offering districts few guidelines and no new money, said Allan
Odden, a teacher-pay expert at the University of Wisconsin-Madison who
helped design Iowas system.
Both Mr. Odden and Douglas N. Harris, an economist at FloridaStateUniversity who studies the teacher-labor market, said the Florida program was unlikely to get much further without clear
and forceful signals from top state officials.
You really need a lot of people talking about it to show theres
political will behind it, said Mr. Harris. This was a major
Figures from the Florida state education department show that less than a third
of the possible payout under the performance-pay provision was spent
in the 2003-04 school year: about $11 million of $37.6 million of the
teacher-salary spending across the state.
The new rules could be in place by the 2006-07 school year, said Pamela
Stewart, Floridas deputy chancellor for K-12 educator quality.
Yet new rules are not likely to win over those who regard basing any
part of a teachers pay on test scores as not only unfair, but
The current law is ambiguous about how teachers performance should
be assessed, but it does specify that students performance must
be primary, and points to the state-mandated Florida Comprehensive
While teachers and some of their unions are ready to consider departures
from the uniform pay scale for those who take on more duties
or the toughest assignments, or who teach in fields with shortages,
using student-achievement data to determine pay remains an anathema
for many educators.
And if student-achievement is measured solely by the FCAT, so much the
worse, many Florida teachers would argue.
That reliance on the FCAT, basically, is the reason the PinellasCounty schools have granted just two bonuses in three years.
The result didnt surprise the director of the local teachers
union, which under the law had to agree to the plan in teachers
Our purpose is to underscore the fundamental absurdity of trying
to slice [teachers pay] like this, said Jade Moore, the
executive director of the Pinellas Classroom Teachers Association.
Ron Stone, an associate superintendent of the 114,000-student district
who negotiated the teachers contract, was inclined to agree.
It is very difficult to discriminate between an average teacher
and an outstanding teacher, he said. A lot [of test gains]
are dictated by the children a teacher gets.
The state mandate played out differently in the HillsboroughCounty district, which includes Tampa. There, school officials expect more than 700 of their
12,000-teacher corps to get bonuses for this past year, up from more
than 500 the previous year and about 230 in 2002-03.
We feel its a success, said Constance S. Gilbert,
the human-resources manager who oversees the performance-pay program
for the 170,000-student district. We feel it contributes to teaching
and learning; for those teachers who work all the time, it provides
But Hillsborough has not limited the evidence of student achievement
to FCAT scores, the way Pinellas did. What we say to principals
is, The teacher must demonstrate that a majority of the students
in the class has made learning gains, Ms. Gilbert said.
Teachers must also apply for the bonuses, which require effort beyond
the standard job evaluation.
Its not clear whether either districts tack is likely to
be permitted in the forthcoming revised rules. Another question is whether
the performance-pay plan can require teachers to receive advanced certification
from the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards for a bonus.
State officials say they could withhold millions of dollars in aid from
districts that refuse to go along with the new rules.
The state teachers union is not impressed. Mark Pudlow, a spokesman
for the Florida Education Association, which is affiliated with both
the National Education Association and the American Federation of Teachers,
said that locals have been leery of the pay plan from the beginning
because the bonuses have to come from the same pot of money as general
The concept of giving some small number of teachers 5 percent
performance pay at the expense of all other employees continues to be
an unpopular notion that fits with all the previous merit-pay schemes
that have been unsuccessfully tried in Florida, he wrote in an
The only hope, he contended, lies in voluntary plans that have separate
funding from the state and are devised collaboratively by school officials
and the local union. TOP OF PAGE
More youths with disabilities are successfully making the transition
from school to higher education, jobs, and adult responsibilities than
they did in the late 1980s, according to a federally financed study
that has tracked thousands of secondary school students with disabilities
The percentage of students completing high school rose from 53.5 percent
in 1987 to 70.3 percent in 2003, according to the report, released by
the U.S. Department of Education late last month. During the same period,
the rate at which students enrolled in any type of postsecondary education
rose from 14.6 percent to 31.9 percent.
Similar positive gains appeared in employment; participation in core-academic
courses such as mathematics, science, social studies, and foreign languages;
and enrollment in a grade appropriate to the students age, among
Federal officials said the gains reflect real achievements in reaching
out to teenagers with disabilities.
These accomplishments show the benefits of accountability and
high academic standards among all students, including those with disabilities,
U.S. Secretary of Education Margaret Spellings said in a statement.
In a later interview, Troy R. Justesen, the acting director of the departments
office of special education programs, said, We can debate policy
reform all we want, but its finally working. Its starting
to show some dramatic increases. The office paid for the study
as part of a national assessment of the 1997 Individuals with Disabilities
Some Still Struggling
At the same time, the study highlights areas of continuing concern.
Black and Hispanic youths lagged significantly behind their white peers
in such areas as independent living and postsecondary attendance and
completion rates. In addition, no real increase in earnings among young
people with disabilities took place over a 16-year period, after adjusting
for inflation. In 1987, youths with disabilities earned about $7.80
an hour; in 2003, the figure was $7.30.
On another negative note, more adolescents with disabilities reported
they had been subjected to serious school discipline, arrest, or firing
from a job in 2003 compared with 1987.
Those with emotional disturbances and other health impairments also
lagged behind students in other disability groups in terms of achievement.
Mr. Justesen suggested that effective interventions for students with
emotional disturbances be made schoolwide.
For children with emotional disturbances, administrators have
to learn how to modify the entire environment of a school, he
Other disabilities, such as vision, hearing, and other physical impairments,
are relatively easier to address, he said. The report shows that youths
with such conditions generally had the highest rates of college attendance
among those with disabilities.
The National Longitudinal Transitions Study-2, referred to as NLTS2,
is the second research undertaking of its type financed by the Department
of Education. The first study documented the experience of thousands
of youngsters with disabilities from the late 1980s through the early
1990s. The newer study began in 2001 and will follow a group of about
12,000 youths every other year through 2009. A Menlo Park, Calif.-based
research institute, SRI International, is conducting both longitudinal
studies. The July report drew on data from students who were ages 15
to 19 at the time of the interviews. Most were male and had learning
disabilities or emotional disturbances.
Mr. Justesen said information gathered through the studies is available
to other researchers for their own analyses.
More Support Needed
This provides the scientific foundation and data that everyone
is looking for, said Deborah Leuchovius, who coordinates a project
that helps young people with disabilities make the transition to adulthood
for the Minneapolis-based Parent Advocacy Coalition for Educational
Rights. It confirms what transition professionals already know
and what families are already experiencing.
But, as the report notes, theres still plenty of room for improvement
in preventing dropouts and ensuring success for students with emotional
and behavioral needs, Ms. Leuchovius said.
Carole E. Walsh, the transition coordinator for six small school districts
in northwest Colorado, agreed that transition into postschool life for special
education students has improved since she first started teaching in
1974. She works with colleges, vocational schools, and other groups
that help students with disabilities make a seamless transition from
school to community life.
Its more of a hand-off situation, said
Ms. Walsh, who is a member of a group of special education professionals
appointed by the National Education Association to assist other teachers
in learning about special education topics. [Students] are already
connected with what that next step is going to be. TOP OF PAGE
County, Tenn., the school district is looking for ways to slash its
budget. Though the schools there have more poor students than ever,
in the coming school year, the district will lose 22 percent of the
federal money used to help get those children up to speed academically.
For the 2005-06 school year, the 11,200-student school system has cut
five of 29 Title I teachers and five teachers aides, on top of
more severe layoffs in past years. District officials are trying to
get creative by searching for grants to replace at least some of the
dollars theyve lost.
But like more than two-thirds of the school districts in the country
that receive federal Title I funds to help disadvantaged students succeed,
the Tipton County schools are struggling to serve those children with
fewer federal dollars.
Cutting your way to excellence is extremely difficult to do,
said Tim Fite, the director of schools for the county, located north
of Memphis and bordered on the west by the Mississippi River. The children are the ones who are losing.
While many districts are seeing less Title I aid in the 2005-06 school
year, othersparticularly larger urban districts with high concentrations
of disadvantaged studentsare getting a bump up, according to a
study released last month by the Washington-based Center on Education
But overall, Title I dollars are being spread much thinner throughout
the nation, said Jack Jennings, the president of the research and policy
center. TiptonCounty is losing about $276,000 of its Title I funds; its 22
percent cut ranks it No. 2 among districts with the highest percentage
of Title I losses.
The cuts come just as districts are grappling with the requirements
of the federal No Child Left Behind Act, which calls for schools and
districts to meet annual achievement goals or face penalties. The 3½-year-old
law, a reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act,
provides for the continuation of Title I as the main federal vehicle
for improving the achievement of disadvantaged children.
While the NCLB law tries to target the bulk of Title I funding to districts
with the highest concentration of disadvantaged students, all schools
must comply with the acts requirements, noted Mr. Jennings, a
former top Democratic House aide on education. The law concentrates
more money on big cities and poorer school districtsa laudable
goal, he said, but the scope of the law has been expanded
to call for raising student achievement in all school districts. Those
two goals conflict.
The Center on Education Policy analyzed data for Title IK-12s
largest federal programfor the upcoming school year. It found
that 8,843 districts will get fewer Title I dollars than last year to
serve low-achieving students in poor areas, but that 4,403 districts
will receive more money.
The funds are allocated using complex methods based on several formulas,
all of which use U.S. Census data to calculate where the money should
go. To be eligible for much of the money, a district must have an enrollment
that is made up at least 5 percent by poor children. The most up-to-date
census data available are from 2002.
Although two-thirds of districts are losing federal Title I funds, those
gaining educate two-thirds of the nations students, according
to the report. Thats as it should be, said Ross Wiener, the policy
director for the Education Trust, a Washington research and advocacy group that supports the No Child
Left Behind Act.
The real story here is that increases in federal funds are well
targeted to high-poverty districts, and most students are in districts
that are seeing increases in Title I this year, he said. Federal
funds are intended to help those school districts that serve the most
students living in poverty.
While aid formulas to better help those students were put into the ESEA
in 1994, they were not financed significantly, Mr. Wiener said, until
the advent of the No Child Left Behind Act of 2001. The law is now more
sensitive to shifts in poverty levels than before, he said.
Susan Aspey, a spokeswoman for the Department of Education, agreed.
The law is explicit that the funds follow the highest concentrations
of poverty, she said by e-mail last week.
A Question of Funding
While the TiptonCounty district in Tennessee has lost money, the Cherry Creek school system in Greenwood Village, Colo., will enjoy a 63 percent gain in Title I aid this coming
school year, the third-highest percentage increase in the nation, according
to the CEP report.
Cherry Creeks Title I coordinator, Julie Sack, said the additional
$1.1 million will enable the district to identify five more elementary
schools to receive Title I funding and add remedial reading and mathematics
programs to those schools. It also will permit the district to expand
its remedial-math program to the eight existing Title I schools that
previously were receiving only reading help.
The bump up that the 46,650-student, 58-school district is getting in
Title I money stems from an influx of immigrantsprimarily Hispanic,
Arab, and Koreanto the area, Ms. Sack said. This years calculations
nudge Cherry Creek over the 5 percent mark for students in poverty,
Big-city districts in New
Los Angeles, Chicago,
and Philadelphia are seeing significant Title I increases that measure
in the millions of dollars.
The Fairfax County, Va., district is in a similar situation: It will
receive $6.9 million more in Title I funding, for a total of $15.3 million,
up from $9.1 million this past school year. But district budget director
Mario J. Schiavo said he views the Title I increase as more of a restoration.
Last year, the 166,000-student district in the Washington suburbs came
in just under the 5 percent level and lost much of its Title I funding.
The most recent census numbers, used for this years calculations,
brought the district over the 5 percent benchmark. Essentially,
the money is being put back, Mr. Schiavo said.
For school systems that hover around having the minimum percentage of
students in poverty to qualify for aid, the year-to-year fluctuations
in Title I money make it difficult to carry out consistent remedial
programs, Mr. Schiavo contended.
But Jeff Simering, the legislative director for the Council of the Great
City Schools, a Washington-based group that represents 65 of the countrys
largest urban school districts, said the real problem isnt the
funding formula for Title I, it is that increases to the program have
stalled. In recent years, increases to the programfunded at $12.7
billion for the 2005 fiscal yearhave waned.
Though Bush administration officials have repeatedly pointed to increases
in Title I funding, both the full House and the Senate Appropriations
Committee have passed budget bills that include only a minimal hike
of $100 million for fiscal 2006. That increase, if enacted, would be
the smallest in eight years. TOP OF PAGE
high schools have won a reprieve from a state requirement that students
pass the Regents exams to earn a diploma.
The extension of an existing waiver will allow those schools an extra
five years to prepare their students to pass the statewide tests in
five subjects, as students in the rest of the states high schools
already have to do.
Advocates of the high schools receiving the waiversmost of which
are in New York Citysay the interim period will give them the
chance to gather evidence that their approach of using portfolios of
student work as the measure for graduation is as good as the subject
exams that the state now requires students to pass. They hope eventually
to win a permanent waiver for their schools or even spur the state to
create an alternative assessment that could be used statewide, one education
Were hoping to push the state to adopt an alternative assessment,
said Jane Hirschmann, a member of a New York City-based anti-testing
group called Time Out from Testing and the mother of three children
who graduated from New York City schools that operate under the waiver.
Were definitely concerned about the rest of the state.
But a member of the state board of regents who helped craft the state
waiver said that its purpose is to give schools time to get ready for
using the statewide exams as the path to a diploma.
If schools operating under the waiver tried to win approval for alternative
assessments, he said, they would have to produce a trove of data to
prove students are completing work that is as rigorous as what is required
under the Regents exams.
We obviously have to have standards that are rigorous, uniform,
and replicable, said the board member, James R. Tallon Jr. The
regents unanimously approved the waiver extension last month.
In 1996, the state of New
phasing in its Regents exams as a requirement to earn a standard diploma.
Previously, only students choosing to pursue a more prestigious diploma
took the tests. Members of the class of 2003 needed to score at least
a 55 on a 100-point scale on tests in English, mathematics, world history,
American history, and at least one science subject to receive their
This past June, the state board voted to phase in a passing score of
65. The class of 2009 will need to score at that level or better in
at least two subjects, and each succeeding class will need to pass an
additional exam with a 65 or higher, with the new policy to be in place
for the class of 2012.
The 39 alternative high schools had not been required to fully implement
the current graduation policy, however. Under a 1995 waiver from the
board of regents, students in those schools have only been required
to pass the English exam to earn diplomas.
Under the new waiver, current students in the alternative schools, or
portfolio schools, continue to pass the English exam with a score of
55 or higher.
Under the waiver, the graduating class of 2009, which enters high school
this fall, must score 65 or higher on the English test. The next two
classes must pass two testsin English and one other subject of
their schools choice. The students must score at least 65 on both
tests. The class of 2012 will be required to pass exams for English
and two other subjects. The class of 2013 will need to meet the statewide
requirement of passing five subject tests, all with a score of at least
Ms. Hirschmann said the board of regents action was a victory
for the portfolio schools. The board had been inclined to let the existing
waiver expire, but the state Senate put pressure on the regents to extend
Earlier this year, the Senate passed a bill that would have extended
the groups waiver for four years and required the regents to devise
an alternative set of portfolio-based assessments that could have been
used statewide. Although the Assembly, the legislatures lower
house, did not pass a companion bill, leaders of that body lobbied the
regents to address the concerns of the portfolio schools without legislation,
Ms. Hirschmann said.
Mr. Tallon of the state board acknowledged that the legislative activity
had prompted the waiver extension. The Senate bills requirement
for an alternative, portfolio-based assessment was not a step
forward, he said.
Ms. Hirschmann said research shows that graduates of portfolio schools
succeed in college.
We are proving that our kids not only go to college and stay in
college, but do well in college, she said.