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State of Illinois - Governor Blagojevich 

News Clips

News Clips – August 5 - 12, 2005


New law requires genocide education in public schools / KWQC-TV
Snafu spoils much of state test / Chicago Sun-Times
Making schools fit for kids / St. Louis Post-Dispatch
Education, business leaders can help schools / Chicago Sun-Times
Firm to answer questions from state teacher pension fund / Belleville News-Democrat
Does money transform schools? / Christian Science Monitor
'No Child Left Behind' lawsuit dismissed / Streator Times Press
Program seeks to attract bilingual teachers / KWQC-TV
State: Libka not qualified to hold district's top post / Northlake Herald Journal

Law would change testing for special education students / Peoria Journal Star
Group to meet, discuss possible school merger / Quincy Herald-Whig
Lockport High initiates new special ed program / Herald News
Joliet school district board member resigns / Herald News
State schools chief gets extended contract, raise / State Journal-Register
Federal investigators seek teacher pension fund documents / Belleville News- Democrat
District 201 gets dress code lawsuit moved to U.S. court (with POLL) / Belleville News- Democrat
State should change special ed testing / Peoria Journal Star

Utah rebuked over NCLB / The Salt Lake Tribune
Pondering leaving No Child behind / The Roanoke Times (VA)
School board backs criticism of evolution / Tribune News Services
Bush must address promise to upgrade U.S. high schools / Whittier Daily News (CA)
Testing teachers: Someone has to hold them accountable / New Hampshire Union Leader
National Research Council criticizes high school labs / USA Today
Bush pushes very hot button / San Francisco Chronicle
Teenager Dies After Cheerleading Stunt /
Chicago Tribune
Federal appeals court upholds Virginia law requiring Pledge of Allegiance in schools
Daily Southtown
School district, magazine make deal / Las Vegas Review-Journal
Kansas moves to stem role of evolution in teaching / Boston Globe
California teachers, schools superintendent sue governor /
Despite crashes, buses remain safest form of school travel /
U.S. Targets Sex Abuse Of Exchange Students /
Washington Post
Maine offers free Internet tied to lunch program / Boston Globe

Evolution Is Only Theory of Life’s Origins Included in Draft of Science NAEP
Group Seeks Federal Probe of Reading First
Staff Investment Pays Dividends in Md. District
Some Florida Districts Opting Not to Pay Out Performance Bonuses
Disability Less Likely to Hold Back Youths Following High School
Title I Allocations Reveal Gains and Losses
N.Y. ‘Portfolio Schools’ Get Regents Reprieve



New law requires genocide education in public schools
Associated Press, KWQCTV6
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 the state.
"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 said.
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
Illinois Holocaust Museum and Education Center, praised the bill.


Snafu spoils much of state test
Rosalind Rossi,
Chicago Sun-Times
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 assessment.
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.
Feels 'terrible'

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 fifth.
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
DePaul University'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.
Chicago, the ISAT snafu marked the second major test glitch this year.
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.''


Making schools fit for kids
Harry Jackson Jr. St. Louis Post-Dispatch
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 ago.
"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

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
Prevention Research Center at St. Louis University, 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 the problem."


Education, business leaders can help schools
Opinion by Gery Chico,
Chicago Sun-Times
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 employers.
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 professionals.
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 with them.
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 same page.
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 of Education.


Firm to answer questions from state teacher pension fund
Associated Press,
Belleville News-Democrat
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."

Does money transform schools?
Illinois debates its big rich-poor spending gap.
Amanda Paulson, The Christian Science Monitor
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 to dollars.
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
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
Stanford University, citing achievement gaps for minority and low-income students. "Unfortunately, they aren't very closely related to spending differences."
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.
New 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 York City 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 a problem.
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, she says.
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."


'No Child Left Behind' lawsuit dismissed
Jody Bourne, Streator Times-Press
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 isn’t 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 definitely harmed.
“There is obviously damage; it’s hurting kids. But perhaps that was not detailed enough in the lawsuit,” Allen admitted.
Allen said the districts’ attorney indicated his belief that the judge’s decision “comes from a fundamental lack of knowledge on the judge’s part of special education students and IDEA” (Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, the federal special education law).
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 there’s 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 Tuesday’s regular board of education meeting to the lawsuit.
“I’ll 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 board’s okay, I’ll work with the other three school districts to do that,” he said.
Back in February, District 44 joined three other districts –
Ottawa Township High School, 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 NCLB.
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 list.
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 couldn’t 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 district’s 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, Allen said.


Program seeks to attract bilingual teachers
CHICAGO The Illinois State Board of Education has a tempting offer for people who are bilingual and interested in becoming a teacher.
Up to 250 people can receive free tuition -- plus a starting teacher's salary -- to become bilingual education teachers.
Applicants must be fluent in English and another language and already have a bachelor's degree -- in any subject.
Those accepted to the program will receive two-and-a-half years of free graduate classes in education at DeKalb's
Northern Illinois University.
During their coursework, the participants will work in classrooms in
Chicago. For that, they'll earn 39-thousand-dollars a year.


State: Libka not qualified to hold district's top post
John Huston, Northlake Herald Journal
The interim superintendent for
Proviso Township School District 209 is unqualified to hold the position, according to the State Board of Education.
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
Concordia University.
"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 said.
Bob Ingraffia, regional superintendent of schools for suburban
Cook County, agreed with Watts' opinion.
"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 status."
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," Welch said.
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."

Law would change testing for special education students
Molly Parker,
Peoria Journal Star
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 Tuesday.
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
"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.
Dunlap School District 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."


Group to meet, discuss possible school merger
Deborah Gertz Husar,
Quincy Herald-Whig
CARTHAGE, Ill. — A new Committee of 10 has formed in Hancock County to look at a reorganization of the Carthage, Dallas City and LaHarpe school districts.
Under reorganization by convergence, the three would maintain separate elementary school districts but have a joint high school in
"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
Dallas City 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 board members.
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
Dallas City, 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 James said.
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
Carthage High School, 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
Carthage High School any longer. It will be whatever the name of the new school district is."
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
Lockport Township High School 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 first.

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 Street 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 similar endeavors.

"Our objective is to develop two more of these (programs) in two school districts for the next school year,: Hespell said.


Joliet school district board member resigns
State's Attorney: Frank Stewart illegally held two positions
Ted Slowik, Herald News Staff Writer, 8/11/05

JOLIETEmbattled Joliet Grade School District board member Frank Stewart submitted his resignation Wednesday night.

Stewart's resignation, effective today, comes after the
Will County State'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 Will County.

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 said.

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.


State schools chief gets extended contract, raise
By Adriana Colindres,
State Journal Register State Capitol Bureau, 8/12/05

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 Dunn’s job title.

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 Dunn’s raise puts his salary “in the range” of other
Illinois school superintendents’ salaries. Ruiz said that Dunn’s 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 departure.

“Hopefully, it’s a statement by the board that we’re trying to rein in spending” and direct more money to the classroom, Ruiz said.

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 governor’s educational priorities.

“I absolutely do think this thing is working as intended,” Dunn said of the board’s 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 abandoned.

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 university’s Department of Educational Administration and Higher Education.


Federal investigators seek teacher pension fund documents
By Mike Colias, AP,

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 of concern.

"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 to Kjellander.

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.

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 investigation.

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


District 201 gets dress code lawsuit moved to
U.S. court (with POLL)
Belleville News-Democrat, 8/12/05

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 the complaint.

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 judge.

"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.


State should change special ed testing
Peoria Journal Star Editorial, 8/12/05

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.




Utah rebuked over NCLB
Disappointed: Former secretary of education said the state doesn't understand the education law
By Shinika A. Sykes, The Salt
Lake Tribune, 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 Western Governors University'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
Rose Wagner Center 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 Utah County 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
Woodrow Wilson Center, 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 world.

"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 degrees.

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.

"WGU offered the flexibility I needed," he said. "After putting the kids to bed, I could attend WGU over the Internet."


Pondering leaving No Child behind
Roanoke Times Editorial, 8/8/05

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 in 2002.

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 or not.

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 that.

And the bottom line must be no net loss to the schools.


School board backs criticism of evolution
Items compiled from Tribune News Services
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 their classrooms.
The board is expected to vote on final approval of the standards in October.


Bush must address promise to upgrade
U.S. high schools
Opinion by Morton Kondracke, executive editor of Roll Call, the newspaper of Capitol Hill, Whittier Daily News, 8/8/05

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 education.

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 interest group.'

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 in 2007.

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 area.'

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

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 American people?'

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.


Testing teachers: Someone has to hold them accountable
New Hampshire Union Leader Editorial, 8/10/05

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.


National Research Council criticizes high school labs
AP, 8/8/05

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
Carleton College.

"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, it said.

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 lab experiences.

- 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.


Bush pushes very hot button
President's comments embolden anti-evolutionists
Joe Garofoli, Chronicle Staff Writer,

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 "the e-word."

"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
Sonoma State University 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 critics.

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
Contra Costa County 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 it.

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,, 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
National Center for Science Education in Oakland -- but few believe that intelligent design has made significant inroads in California.

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 really regrettable."

"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?"


Teenager Dies After Cheerleading Stunt
By Associated Press,

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
Medford Vocational-Technical High School and had cheered for years on a Pop Warner team. She had just made the team at Medford High School, which shares sports with Burns' high school.


Federal appeals 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 of her.

Newdow, an atheist, has since filed suit against four Sacramento-area school districts on behalf several atheist children and their families.


School district, magazine make deal
District gains control over publication's editorial content in exchange for mailing list
Las Vegas Review-Journal, 8/11/05

Clark County School District 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 1980s.

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 of $28,000.

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
Clark County schools to occupy eight to 12 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 alike.

"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.


Kansas moves to stem role of evolution in teaching
By Carey Gillam, Reuters,

OVERLAND 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 National Center 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.


California teachers, schools superintendent sue governor

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 office.

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 said.

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.


Despite crashes, buses remain safest form of school travel

WASHINGTON -- Every time Monroe Elementary students misbehave on a school bus, they get a written warning -- and a verbal one from the head of their school.

The message to the kids: Bus safety is so vital that even the principal gets involved.

"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 school-bus crashes.

"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 said.

"School buses aren't taxis. You can't run them on demand,"
Leeds said. "And when kids want to go to the mall or to a job, that's an issue."

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."



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: 20

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


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 courts.

Gaithersburg High School 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 material.

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 allegedly molested.

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 Montgomery County 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 go unreported.

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 object.

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 said.

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," he said.

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 Yosemite National Park. 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.


Maine offers free Internet tied to lunch program
By David Sharp, Associated Press, 8/11/05

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 said.

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 at schools.

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, he said.

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
Freeport Middle School, 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.

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 Cross State Office Building.

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 Bowdoin College and works with Leaders LLC, a Portland firm that matches buyers and sellers of Maine businesses.




Evolution Is Only Theory of Life’s Origins Included in Draft of Science NAEP
By Sean Cavanagh,
Washington, 8/8/05

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 nation’s 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 Darwin’s 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 organisms.”

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 NAGB.

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
National Center 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 that’s what we’ve 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 governor’s brother waded into the debate over evolution’s 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 Darwin’s 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. Winick said.

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 funds—as is currently the case for 4th and 8th grade—partly 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 don’t 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.”


Group Seeks Federal Probe of Reading First
Government initiative is working in schools, supporters say.
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 Education’s inspector general to investigate the agency’s 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 critics.

“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 Council’s 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 council’s 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 First’s call for “scientifically based research.” And finally, the council asserts that the federal agency has ignored the research supporting Reading Recovery.

Despite the council’s concerns, officials in many states have said they are benefiting from the Reading First program. While they say that solid data on the program’s 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 level.

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 department’s 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 products.

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 awareness—the 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 Recovery’s 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
Johns Hopkins University, 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 organization’s 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 Recovery’s complaint would most likely draw a “wait-and-see” response from reading advocates.

“Clearly, it’s an expensive program, but one that has an extensive track record,” Mr. Farstrup said about Reading Recovery.


Staff Investment Pays Dividends in Md. District
By Catherine Gewertz,
Silver Spring, Md.,

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 Viers Mill Elementary School.

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 district’s 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,
Montgomery County has drawn notice for its unusual concentration on human resources. The 139,000-student district spends 3 percent of its annual budget—or $50 million a year—on recruiting and developing its people.

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. That’s 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, and methods.

“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
Harvard University. He has been studying Montgomery County’s practices as part of a joint project with the university’s business school.

Reworking the System

Montgomery County 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 district’s 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 district’s 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,
Montgomery County’s 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
Montgomery County 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
Quince Orchard High School in Gaithersburg, has seen the benefits of the change in the county’s hiring practices.

“The pools of teacher-candidates are better qualified than they used to be,” he said. “And I don’t 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 school’s administrative team.

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” in
Montgomery County.

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 district’s 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 mission—and reduce teachers’ sense of isolation—by building a teamwork approach to teaching, she said.

Union Cooperation

Montgomery County 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. Weast’s “weed and feed” strategy: Provide plenty of support and growth opportunities, but if those don’t yield results, it’s time to part ways.

Darlene A. Merry, the district’s associate superintendent for organizational development, said that between 2001 and 2004, 177 underperforming teachers were dismissed, chose to leave, or didn’t have their contracts renewed, compared with only one between 1994 and 1999.

The district’s 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.

“It’s not good for a union to say anyone can walk into a classroom and teach,” she said. “It diminishes the work we do.”

Montgomery County 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 district’s way of doing things.

“It’s important in Montgomery County that when you go into a leadership position, you’re like the Cadillac—that 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 Harvard’s graduate school of education who sought positions in
Montgomery County 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
Montgomery County in 2004-05 were hired from outside the system.

Selection Process

Viers Mill Elementary School illustrates the district’s method of selecting new school leaders. Principal Matthew A. Devan taught at a Gaithersburg elementary school while getting his master’s degree in administration through one of the district’s 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., who’d been the school’s 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 district’s director of school improvement services. Mr. Devan now sits at Mr. Virga’s old desk at Viers Mill.

Heavy investment in the staff is a pivotal piece of Superintendent Weast’s 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.


Some Florida Districts Opting Not to Pay Out Performance Bonuses
By Bess Keller, 8/10/05

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 service.

Pinellas County, 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 of education.

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.

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 states—Iowa and New Mexico—have 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 Iowa’s system.

Both Mr. Odden and Douglas N. Harris, an economist at
Florida State University 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 there’s political will behind it,” said Mr. Harris. “This was a major change.”

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,
Florida’s deputy chancellor for K-12 educator quality.

Yet new rules are not likely to win over those who regard basing any part of a teacher’s pay on test scores as not only unfair, but also ineffective.

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 Assessment Test.

‘Fundamental Absurdity’

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
Pinellas County schools have granted just two bonuses in three years.

The result didn’t surprise the director of the local teachers’ union, which under the law had to agree to the plan in teachers’ contract negotiations.

“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.”

Withholding Aid?

The state mandate played out differently in the
Hillsborough County 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 it’s 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 some recognition.”

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.

It’s not clear whether either district’s 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 salary increases.

“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 e-mail.

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.


Disability Less Likely to
Hold Back Youths Following High School
By Christina A. Samuels, 8/10/05

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 over time.

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 student’s age, among other areas.

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 department’s office of special education programs, said, “We can debate policy reform all we want, but it’s finally working. It’s starting to show some dramatic increases.” The office paid for the study as part of a national assessment of the 1997 Individuals with Disabilities Education Act.

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 said.

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, there’s 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.

“It’s 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.”


Title I Allocations Reveal Gains and Losses
Some school districts get big funding jumps, while others struggle.
By Michelle R. Davis, 8/10/05

Tipton 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 they’ve 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.”

Targeting Poverty

While many districts are seeing less Title I aid in the 2005-06 school year, others—particularly larger urban districts with high concentrations of disadvantaged students—are getting a bump up, according to a study released last month by the Washington-based Center on Education Policy.

But overall, Title I dollars are being spread much thinner throughout the nation, said Jack Jennings, the president of the research and policy center.
Tipton County 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 3-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 act’s requirements, noted Mr. Jennings, a former top Democratic House aide on education. “The law concentrates more money on big cities and poorer school districts—a 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 I—K-12’s largest federal program—for 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 nation’s students, according to the report. That’s 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
Tipton County 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 Creek’s 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 immigrants—primarily Hispanic, Arab, and Korean—to the area, Ms. Sack said. This year’s calculations nudge Cherry Creek over the 5 percent mark for students in poverty, she said.

Big-city districts in
New York, 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 year’s 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 country’s largest urban school districts, said the real problem isn’t the funding formula for Title I, it is that increases to the program have stalled. In recent years, increases to the program—funded at $12.7 billion for the 2005 fiscal year—have 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.


N.Y. ‘Portfolio Schools’ Get Regents Reprieve
Sites plan to use time to craft alternative to statewide exams.
By David J. Hoff, 8/10/05

New York state 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 state’s high schools already have to do.

Advocates of the high schools receiving the waivers—most of which are in New York City—say 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 activist said.

“We’re 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. “We’re 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.

Five-Year Fix

In 1996, the state of
New York started 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 diplomas.

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 tests—in 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 65.

Political Pressure

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 it.

Earlier this year, the Senate passed a bill that would have extended the group’s 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 legislature’s 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 bill’s 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.


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