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State of Illinois - Governor Blagojevich 

News Clips

News Clips – May 26 – June 1, 2007

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STATE  
Census system hurts school system / The Times (Ottawa)
Are improved scores legitimate? / The Daily Journal (Kankakee)
MySpace turns over nearly 600 names / Peoria Journal Star
No P.E. prohibition; legislation would restrict waivers / Daily Journal (Kankakee)
More cash sought for schools / Chicago Tribune
Year-round school has parents, kids walking out / Chicago Tribune
School District 142 technology gets parents on the phone, fast / Daily Southtown
Idea with merit: Give good teachers raises / Chicago Sun-Times & Daily Southtown
It's too easy for Illinois teachers to strike / Chicago Sun-Times
School wind farms get state aid / Peoria Journal Star
Vote for school cuts illegal, county says / Chicago Tribune
Illinois budget impasse / Chicago Tribune
Required moment of school silence sent to governor / Associated Press
'Matt's Law' goes to governor's desk / Champaign News-Gazette
Veto moment of silence bill / State Journal-Register
Time to reform school funding system / Daily Southtown
Who crowned Jones, Madigan and Blagojevich king? /  Pantagraph
GHS graduation flap widely reported / Register-Mail (Galesburg)

NATIONAL
Schools going green to save on electric bills, teach students / CNN.com
Governor wavers on voucher decision / The Salt Lake Tribune
Teacher pension fund faces $19 billion funding gap / San Diego Union-Tribune
Steroids testing measure approved / Houston Chronicle
House OKs religion in school / Dallas Morning News
More schools are ditching final exams / Los Angeles Times
State test bars thousands from high school diploma / Cleveland Plain Dealer
Judge: Schools can keep Potter books / Chicago Tribune
Arkansas High Court says schools are adequately funded / Associated Press
Governor vetoes small-schools bill / Grand Island Independent (NE)

NATIONAL - NCLB
How to Fix No Child Left Behind / Time
Iraq's a Disaster, NCLB Not Far Behind / Mother Jones
Standardizing the Standards / New York Times Magazine
The real teachers share their hearts, not just their knowledge / Des Moines Register
Test-takers, not students / Los Angeles Times
'No Child Left Behind' fails children / Rochester Democrat & Chronicle (NY)
How Nebraska Leaves No Child Behind / Time
"No Child Left Behind": State Tests Vary / CBS News
Time to foster innovation / Philadelphia Inquirer
Our view on education reform: How to fix 'No Child' law / USA Today
Opposing view: 'Too destructive to salvage' / USA Today
Leaving behind No Child Left Behind / Ventura County Reporter (CA)
Majority would like 'no child' law left behind / Scripps Howard News Service
With No Child Left Behind, Familiarity Breeds Contempt / The Huffington Post

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STATE

Census system hurts school system
By Stephanie Szuda, The Times, 5/26/07
 
The No Child Left Behind Act seems to be leaving the Marseilles Elementary School District behind.

Herman Ahlfield, district superintendent, said the formula used to calculate NCLB funds is based on 2000 U.S. Census data listing 60 low income students. No matter how the student population changes, he said, the number will remain at 60 until totals from the 2010 Census come through.

Meanwhile, he said 40 percent of the district's students -- about 240 of almost 600 -- qualify for free or reduced lunches, a measure often used as an indicator of low income counts.

He said the discrepancy is based on the Census' inability to account for people who live in two school districts, in this case the Marseilles Elementary district and the Ottawa Township High School District.

If a family reports it lives in the OTHS district, it is not considered a resident of the Marseilles district, Ahlfield maintains. There are severalelementary-only districts in the area and few unit districts that incorporate kindergarten through high school.

"We're at a disadvantage in many ways," said Ahlfield, noting the state aid and government grants the school won't qualify for since its student population is misrepresented.

School districts have made several attempts in the last 30 years to have the census updated more frequently, he said.

"It varies all the time," Ahlfield said. "If one family comes in with four or five kids, you know that what does to our enrollments?"

Until the census is updated, the school district has no way to be represented properly.

According to an Illinois State Board of Education document showing projected NCLB allocations for fiscal year 2008, the district will receive $54,980 in Title I funds, a 15 percent decrease from the current allocation of $64,759.

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Are improved scores legitimate?
By Jon Krenek, The Daily Journal, 5/26/07

Question: How can 78.2 percent of eighth-graders achieve Illinois State Learning Standards on a standardized test if only 54.3 percent met the requirement the previous year?

Answer: You keep the subject matter the same, but change the grading curve on the test so more can achieve acceptable scores.

This is the method critics and even educators say state officials used to pump up statewide eighth-grade math scores 23.9 percent this year. The Illinois Standards Achievement Test this year required students to answer fewer questions right to earn acceptable scores, and removed some of the more difficult problems.

"That was a joke," said Illinois Business Roundtable President Jeff Mays, whose organization is a consortium of major Illinois corporations frequently critical of Illinois education. "With a stroke of a pen, more than 20 percent of eighth-graders met state standards."

Dumbed down?

Mays said the eighth-grade math test was changed to function more like an elementary level test than a high school level test, which measures the thinking process in addition to content knowledge. Bourbonnais Elementary School District 53 assistant superintendent Cathy Allers said the change made the test more fair.

"It's much more valid because it wasn't out to trick students," said Allers. "It was just a measure of what they know."

Allers said "student-friendly" touches such as adding color to the test also helped, because color made the test less intimidating and more like the textbooks students use on a regular basis.

Kankakee School District 111 Director of Research and Assessment Randy Rose agreed with Mays' assessments of how the test changed, but believes the changes were good. Rose said the old test was a poor tool for measuring how well eighth-grade students understand math.

"It's similar to the old test. It's not dumbed down," said Rose. "They (eighth-grade students) had much higher knowledge than the old test was letting show."

Mays disagrees with assessments the change was made out of fairness.

"I don't think it's fair for the kids or fair to the parents. What you should be doing the real work on is instruction," said Mays. "This is a feel good, easy way to show we're making AYP (adequate yearly progress)."

Moving up

Scores across the state jumped an average 23.9 percent, and the results for many school districts across The Daily Journal coverage area reflected the change. However, the scores at some area schools grew significantly more.

Kankakee Junior High School saw math scores jump from 26.9 percent to 66.2 percent. Lorenzo R. Smith Elementary School in Pembroke Township watched scores make an impressive climb from 9.8 percent to 77.1 percent.

Kankakee Junior High School Principal Mike Rolonitis admits the new test helped boost his school's math score, but there is much else to credit for the jump. Teachers went through extensive training to improve instruction, and students doubled the amount of classroom time they spent in math.

"That (the new test) certainly helped us," said Rolonitis. "The rest of it is just old-fashioned hard work on part of the students and teachers. We feel pretty confident we did something right."

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MySpace turns over nearly 600 names
Registered sex offenders could be using networking site to prey on children
By Adriana Colindres, GateHouse News Service, 5/27/07

SPRINGFIELD - After issuing a subpoena to the online site MySpace.com, Attorney General Lisa Madigan last week received the names of nearly 600 registered Illinois sex offenders who could be using MySpace to prey on children.

MySpace identified 584 of its members as Illinois offenders, Madigan said. Of the 584, 19 are in prison and 17 are on parole from prison, she said.

A total of about 7,000 MySpace members who are believed to be sex offenders, including the ones from Illinois, recently were kicked off the social-networking site. Madigan and attorneys general throughout the United States sought information from MySpace about sex offenders with profiles posted on the site.

"As the attorney general, I'm painfully aware that sex offenders are using the Internet as a way to find their next victims," she said.

Madigan's office is tracking down which county the Illinois offenders were convicted in and is sending letters to county law enforcement officials so they can determine who might be violating probation or parole. In some cases, probation or parole conditions might require a convicted offender to stay off the Internet, she said.

The information from MySpace might represent only "the tip of the iceberg" because the 7,000 offenders who have been identified so far used their real names in posting profiles, the attorney general said. Online profiles, which typically include a person's name and photos, can be posted under fictitious names.

Madigan's office is working with other social-networking sites, such as Facebook and Xanga, to get information about sex offenders who might be using them.

Sexual predators get on the sites to pinpoint their next victim, Madigan said. In one tactic, sex offenders pose as children or teens to engage in online - and eventually inappropriate - conversation with real children or teens.

A few years ago, parents and law enforcement officials focused on chat rooms as a big online threat to children, but the focus has shifted.

"Most kids have left the chat rooms," Madigan said. "Most kids are getting onto MySpace because it's a way for them to meet other kids. It's a way for them to socialize. They just don't know that while that is not unreasonable for them to do, there is a dark side to the Internet, there are dangers out there on the Internet."

The attorney general's office is involved in various outreach efforts to educate parents, children and others about Internet safety. Her office also oversees the Illinois Internet Crimes Against Children task force that pursues Internet predators. Information is available online at www.ill-inoisattorneygeneral.gov.

In addition, she is pushing Internet-related legislation.

Senate Bill 1472, for instance, encourages Illinois schools to adopt age-appropriate curriculums to teach Internet safety. Senate Bill 697 requires individuals convicted of a child-exploitation offense to provide authorities with their Internet Protocol (IP) address, which police could use to track down someone who downloads child pornography.

Other pending legislation also aims to protect young people from Internet predators.

House Republican Leader Tom Cross of Oswego unveiled a proposal earlier this year that would make it a crime for predators to use the Internet for an illicit conversation with a minor.

House Bill 2858 sailed through the House and Senate without any opposing votes and is on the way to Gov. Rod Blagojevich's desk.

Cross said that parents long have warned their children about talking to strangers, particularly at places like playgrounds.

"The Internet has become kind of the playground of the 2000s," he said.
 
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No P.E. prohibition; legislation would restrict waivers
By Stephanie Sievers, Daily Journal, 5/29/07
 
It could be harder for Illinois students to avoid that dreaded dodge ball game under legislation limiting how often schools can seek a state waiver to get around the daily physical education class requirement.

It's too easy for a school district to opt out without much state scrutiny, and that is the wrong direction to be taking when childhood obesity and weight-related diseases are on the rise, says sponsor Sen. William Delgado, D-Chicago.

Legislation approved by lawmakers and now headed to Gov. Rod Blagojevich would limit the length of P.E. waivers to two years instead of five and would prohibit a school district from renewing a particular waiver more than two times.

"We just want to let the General Assembly review these waivers in a more timely manner, rather than letting such an extended time period go by," Delgado said.

There are 120 school districts with P.E. waivers for the current school year, according to the Illinois State Board of Education.

Joseph Vermeire, regional superintendent of education for Rock Island County, said he doesn't think waivers are overused and districts often seek them for valid reasons -- inadequate gym facilities or block class schedules that don't accommodate offering everyone a daily P.E. class.

Some districts want waivers so they can offer P.E. classes on alternating days or allow students involved in sports or marching band the option of opting out.

Dan Joyce, a school superintendent in Serena in northern La Salle County, said the changes will limit flexibility for some districts. His district needed a waiver so that it could stagger P.E. classes until it was able to build a bigger gymnasium a few years ago.

But Delgado said the waiver process needs to be scaled back. Under the current five-year waivers, a student could theoretically get through high school in some districts without taking a single P.E. class, he said.

Todd Rosenthal, athletic director at Moline High School, said he's pleased to see lawmakers making physical education a priority.

"I'm totally in favor of limiting waivers. Our kids are overweight, and they don't get the exercise they used to," he said.

But Sen. Gary Dahl, R-Granville, didn't support the bill, saying the problem is more complicated and it shouldn't be the schools' responsibility to make kids fit.

"We're not going to change childhood obesity by having P.E. in schools. We need to change childhood obesity by giving kids something to do at home besides sitting in front of the 'boob tube' with snack food," he said.

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More cash sought for schools
Officials criticize legislative 'impasse'
Tracy Dell'Angela, Chicago Tribune, 5/26/07
 
Chicago school leaders had been convinced that school funding reform was a real possibility in Springfield this year, they said, so they refrained from making announcements about desperate deficits and catastrophic classroom cuts.
 
Their optimism dried up Friday with an 11th hour plea to Illinois political leaders to "put their egos aside" and change the way the state finances schools.
 
"Today, we're at an impasse. The governor won't budge from his position. The legislature won't support the governor's plan, and the children are left to pay the price," said Rufus Williams, president of the Chicago Board of Education, during a news conference. "There aren't any acceptable excuses for failing our children this year and failing to get this done. I can't begin to tell you how disheartening that is."
 
Illinois House Speaker Michael Madigan announced this week that he will not back a sales or income tax hike to support education, which is facing a promised veto from Gov. Rod Blagojevich. In recent weeks, the Illinois House also unanimously voted down the governor's proposal for a new gross receipts tax for education and health care.
 
Chicago Public Schools Chief Arne Duncan said the district needs more money, but it also needs long-term stability to better plan for classroom and capital needs.
 
He said the district's $5 billion budget will increase a minimum of $165 million next year to cover increases for health care, pensions, energy costs and building maintenance. The amount doesn't include cost-of-living pay increases for teachers and other staff members, if the 4-percent increases hold for the next teachers' contract.
 
Duncan said Chicago schools would need at least $300 million more from the state this year but can't move ahead until the state's spending plan is decided.
 
"Every year, we face rising costs and deep uncertainty over what dollars will be coming from Springfield," Duncan said. "And every year that's meant patchwork budgets and program cuts and property tax hikes. Our schools, our taxpayers and our children deserve better."
 
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Year-round school has parents, kids walking out
Lori Olszewski, Chicago Tribune, 5/30/07

Hundreds of parents at Hurley Elementary School in the West Lawn neighborhood kept their children out of class Tuesday to protest a year-round calendar, a schedule increasingly used by the Chicago school system to deal with overcrowded classrooms in the city's fast-growing Hispanic communities.
 
The discontent at Hurley highlights chronic overcrowding on the Southwest Side and a growing complaint that money that should go toward easing the crowding is instead being funneled to new showcase schools elsewhere.
 
Two mothers, including Hurley Local School Council President Marisela Fernandez, recently filed civil rights complaints with the U.S. Department of Education over the new schedule. They contend Hispanic children are being disproportionately affected because the year-round schedule is used mostly in schools with large Latino populations.
 
Seven out of eight schools slated to operate on multitrack, year-round schedules have a Hispanic majority, according to district records.
 
The year-round schedule gets more children into the same building through staggered schedules, with different "tracks" of children in class for three months and then off for a month. That way only about three-fourths of total enrollment is in the building at any given time. The schedule basically eliminates the long summer vacation and is unpopular with some parents because children from the same family could have different breaks.
 
"Our children are losing opportunities to go to Park District programs, to play soccer in the summer or have other educational or after-school programs. Such things aren't offered on these year-round breaks," said Hurley mother Brenda Perez, one of the parents who filed the complaint. "The rest of the world is on a different schedule."
 
Perez said the schedule change at Hurley is especially burdensome for working parents who often depend on their older children in high school to care for younger siblings in elementary school. Now those youngsters would be on different schedules.
 
"This is going to increase child-care costs for working families," said Perez as she marched around Hurley in the hot sun Tuesday morning with about 100 other parents and pupils. Her oldest son, Roger, a 7th grader who also opposes the change, was beside her. Approximately a third of the school's more than 950 pupils missed class, school officials said.
 
Patrick Rocks, general counsel for the Chicago Public Schools, said he is confident the civil rights complaint will be found to be without merit. He said the district is doing the best it can to relieve overcrowding without busing kids out of the neighborhood.
 
Under ideal conditions, Hurley, 3849 W. 69th Pl., should have approximately 740 pupils, but it already has 200 more, and an additional 100 are expected this fall.
 
"It is unacceptable that 320 children missed a day of school. They should not have been deprived of an education to make a point that the parents have already made over and over to the Board [of Education]," Rocks said. "It doesn't change that we have 100 [new] students scheduled to attend and we have no place to put them."
 
Hurley parents also had kept their children out of class in April to try to dissuade the Chicago Board of Education from approving the change. Parents promised more protests if the schedule changes in July. That would mean lost revenue for the district because state aid is tied to attendance.
 
Hurley parents contend Chicago has schools as overcrowded as Hurley on the North and Northwest Sides, but those schools haven't been forced to use a year-round schedule.
 
James Dispensa, director of school demographics, said the district only uses a year-round schedule at its most overcrowded schools, which "happen to be on the Southwest Side and happen to be in Latino neighborhoods."
 
Four of the five city schools on a year-round, multitrack schedule are heavily Hispanic, according to Chicago Public Schools reports. The fifth, Cuffe Elementary in the Auburn-Gresham neighborhood on the South Side, is predominantly African-American.
 
Three schools, including Hurley, are supposed to begin the schedule in July and all of those are majority Hispanic schools on the Southwest Side that Chicago school officials have identified as the most overcrowded.
 
In the last decade, as Hispanic families with young children replaced older families with Polish and Lithuanian roots, the school district has struggled to deal with persistent overcrowding in the neighborhoods circling Midway Airport. New schools, such as Tarkington Elementary, 3330 W. 71st St., have opened and become full overnight. The system has rented space in closed or underenrolled Catholic schools, added temporary classrooms to playgrounds and bused children to distant schools.
 
The Hurley parents suggest the district could find the two to four classrooms it says it needs by renting more space or adding another temporary classroom. Dispensa said Chicago school officials looked into renting space and were unsuccessful, but parents said they are skeptical because they know many Catholic schools in the neighborhood have empty rooms.
 
"We proposed that they move our two Head Start classrooms out into the community or a mall, like they have done in other neighborhoods. We also have this huge grassy area that could take another portable, but they tell us that is Park District land," said Fernandez, the school council president.
 
"We feel basically that we've been ignored," Fernandez said. "Our principal is retiring and we think they saw that as their chance to put this schedule on us even though we don't want it."
 
A security guard refused a Tribune reporter entry into Hurley Tuesday and referred all questions to the school district communications office.
 
Mayor Richard Daley plans to build 24 schools in the city and three elementaries are planned for the Southwest Side. But Dispensa said those schools may not be ready until 2010 or 2011. The Hurley parents question why new Southwest Side elementaries remain far off in the future when other schools, especially those in the Renaissance 2010 plan, have jumped to the front of the line for renovations and construction dollars.
 
Southwest Side principals have said privately for years that one problem is that many of the Hispanic parents moving into the neighborhood don't or can't vote, which gives them less clout when lobbying for very limited construction dollars.
 
Parents of special education pupils at Hurley said they were worried about how the year-round schedule would affect their children.
 
"Our doctor has expressed concern that such an 'on again-off again' schedule is not the best for my son," said boycotting parent Gabriella Victor, whose child has attention deficit and hyperactivity issues. "My son has trouble with transitions and he'll be constantly changing rooms."
 
Like many of the mothers marching Tuesday, Julia Ramos expressed worries about juggling work and child care with the new schedule. But her daughter, Sofia, 7, said she had a different concern.
 
"I don't want to be in school at a different time than all my friends in karate," she said.

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School District 142 technology gets parents on the phone, fast
Kristen Schorsch, Daily Southtown Staff Writer, 5/30/07
 
Tired of waiting for a call from someone on the phone tree when a bad snowstorm hits and you need to find out if your child's school is closed?
 
Forest Ridge School District 142 in Oak Forest has an answer.
 
It plans to use a messaging system called School Reach, which plugs an unlimited number of phone numbers for parents or guardians into a system and within seconds can send them automated messages.
 
"Let's say we had an intruder in the building," Supt. Margaret Longo said. "We're on lockdown. We could call within 30 seconds every parent (with a child) in that building."
 
That system would have benefited parents and caretakers in January, when a teen dressed in camouflage and armed with an orange-tipped rifle behind Kerkstra Elementary School put the District 142 school and two others nearby on lockdown.
 
The teen actually was carrying an air-powered BB gun and was headed to friend's house to play, police said. He was not charged with a crime.
 
To spread the word about late buses or canceled after-school activities, the district now uses a phone tree system in which the person on the top of the list calls the next person and so on until everyone is reached.
 
"It's not the most expedient way to do it," Longo said, adding that the new messaging system also can be used to tell faculty and staff about meetings.
 
District 142 would be one of the first school districts in Oak Forest to use the program, which costs $4,500 a year, Longo said.
 
Besides Kerkstra, District 142 includes Foster Elementary School, Hille Middle School and Ridge Early Childhood Center.

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Idea with merit: Give good teachers raises
Sun-Times News Group Editorial, 5/30/07
 
When schools flounder and kids don't get the education they deserve, the finger of blame frequently is pointed at underachieving or poorly trained teachers. Improving such situations is a daunting challenge for many reasons. But an experimental merit-pay program Chicago Public Schools will introduce in 10 schools this coming year holds the promise of meeting that challenge. Not only will it will reward deserving teachers with yearly performance bonuses of as much as $8,000, it also will pay higher-level teachers as much as $15,000 extra to train, mentor and evaluate less skilled or experienced colleagues. The buzz these rewards will create could be all the difference between an at-risk school succeeding and failing.
 
Funding for Recognizing Excellence in Academic Leadership, as the program is called, comes from a $2.8 million federal grant designed, in part, to spur experiments in the way teachers are paid. Each school will get between $500,000 and $750,000 a year depending on size. The plan is to expand the program to up to 40 city schools over the next four years. This is the first time unionized schools in Illinois will engage in differential pay. "It's a dramatic culture change," said CPS head Arne Duncan.
 
Just how dramatic is reflected in the support the program is drawing from the Chicago Teachers Union. The union has traditionally opposed merit raises on the grounds that they create an unlevel field for teachers, not only in the same school but on a systemwide basis, and introduce unfair competition among them. Union president Marilyn Stewart initially disapproved of the plan. "Why does the board feel some teachers deserve more for their hard work but others do not?" she wrote in the union newspaper last fall.
 
To her credit, Stewart has come around to endorsing the pilot program despite her strong reservations. She was swayed by the role teachers have played and will continue to play in shaping it, the input the union will have and the fact that rewards will be based not on student test scores but on ongoing evaluations of factors including classroom performance.
 
Will Recognizing Excellence go beyond the experimental phase? That will depend on the ability to come up with funds to sustain it after federal money runs out. And it will depend on the progress made in student performance at the schools. This page is a supporter of merit pay, and we're optimistic about the prospects for this experiment. And success would provide an example for school districts throughout the Chicago region to follow as they seek ways to provide better education for our children.
 
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It's too easy for Illinois teachers to strike
To protect students, require both sides to submit to fact-finding and mediation
Letter by R. Eden Martin, president, Civic Committee, Commercial Club of Chicago, Chicago Sun-Times, 5/30/07
 
The right that Chicago's teachers now have under Illinois law to strike against the Chicago Public Schools is the thermonuclear weapon of Illinois labor relations. Usually, the adverse effects of a strike are borne by the employer -- here, CPS. But, in this case these consequences would be disproportionately borne by innocent third parties: Chicago's schoolchildren and their families.
 
Illinois is one of the few states that permit teachers to strike. In fact, the only other large urban districts in which teachers may strike are Los Angeles and San Diego. In those few districts where strikes are permitted, the parties must engage in mediation and extensive fact-finding procedures prior to a strike.
 
Illinois law ought to be amended to prohibit teachers -- at least those in major cities -- from striking. But, given the political realities in Illinois, such an amendment would be difficult to achieve today. At the very least -- to inject a little "balance" into the system -- teachers in major cities such as Chicago should not be able to strike without going through the sort of non-binding fact-finding and mediation that now exist in California.
 
Such mandatory fact-finding is urgently needed. The Chicago Teachers Union agreement with the Chicago Board of Education expires on June 30. The leadership of the CTU has repeatedly told its members to prepare for a strike if their demands are not met. They have gone so far as to encourage their members to save their money for the ultimate job action, and they recently created a strike organizing committee. These actions are not just arm-waving to pressure the board into granting a richer contract. They are preparations for war.
 
Such a war in Chicago would be far more destructive than in smaller communities throughout the state. CPS performs an essential public service to about 420,000 students and their families, operating through more than 600 schools. CPS is the second largest employer in Chicago. If it were shut down, the ripple effects would be incalculable. Most students would lose the hot lunches now provided by the schools. Mothers and fathers would be torn between their jobs and taking care of the children. If they take care of the children, their employers may be hurt. If they go to work, some would be under pressure to leave young children without supervision, and the consequences could be disastrous.
 
These concerns are not of the "crying wolf" variety. The CTU went out on strike five times between 1980 and 1987 and came close on several other occasions, most recently in 2003.
 
A ''middle ground'' would preserve the right to strike but require the parties to submit to non-binding fact-finding and mediation. Several large states with strong union presences have already done this -- not only California, but also Ohio and Oregon. At the end of such a process, the CTU could still strike if the remaining disputes have not been resolved.
 
When the burdens of a strike are so disproportionate and when they would fall so heavily on innocent third parties, there is more reason than usual to take every step possible to avoid a strike. Mandatory fact-finding is a small but necessary way to recalibrate the balance between management and labor.
 
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School wind farms get state aid
By Laura Camper, GateHouse News Service. 5/30/07

SPRINGFIELD - Students at Abingdon High School started a science project that ended up a lesson in Illinois politics.

The Illinois House passed legislation Tuesday that sponsor Rep. Don Moffitt, R-Gilson, said was driven by the Abingdon students.

The bill, which passed the Senate March 30, would give schools and community colleges the legal authority to form a consortium with other schools to create an electrical generating company. The legislation would allow them not only to sell the excess energy back to the local electric company, but also to apply for available grants to help pay wind turbine construction costs.

Bureau Valley School District in Bureau County already has a wind generator that saves the school district at least $70,000 a year, Moffitt said, adding that smaller schools may not be able to afford the large price tag of constructing a wind turbine.

"Maybe one turbine is big enough to do two or three small schools," he said. "They could form together and have a viable generating company."

Students at the Abingdon school started a science project three years ago studying wind power. They realized they had enough wind in their area to make a turbine an energy-saving alternative for the school district, but the cost was prohibitive. The students looked into the possibility of joining other schools but were told they did not have the legal authority to do so, Moffitt said.

Magie Stuart, superintendent of the Abingdon Community School District, said the legislation would make it possible for the school district along with its partners, Galesburg, Knoxville, Farmington and ROWVA school districts, Carl Sandburg College and the city of Abingdon to reopen the possibility of building a wind farm.

Moffitt said it was exciting to be a part of the project.

Senate Bill 843 passed the House unanimously with a vote of 116-0. The bill will now be sent to the governor for his signature.

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Vote for school cuts illegal, county says / Chicago Tribune
Big Hollow board aims to rectify the error but insists massive reductions are inevitable
Lisa Black, Chicago Tribune, 5/31/07
 
When Big Hollow School District 38 officials voted to cut lunch, gym, recess, the arts and extracurricular activities, among other programs, they violated a state open-meetings law and may have ignored some education code requirements, officials said Wednesday.
 
The Lake County state's attorney's office notified school officials that the board's May 21 vote was improper because the school board took final action on an issue that was not posted on its meeting agenda, said Meg Marcouiller, chief deputy of the state's attorney's civil division.
 
School officials agreed to rectify the mistake during their next board meeting Monday night, rather than face the possibility of having the improper vote voided in court, she said.
 
"There will be a motion next Monday to rescind the action of May 21 regarding the program cuts," Marcouiller said, after talking to Big Hollow Supt. Ron Pazanin and the school district's attorney, Robert Kohn. The agenda "did not indicate the board would vote on budget cuts."
 
Officials from the Lake County Regional Office of Education also are working with the Ingleside-based district this week to ensure that school code is followed if the board proceeds with its proposed budget cuts, said Roycealee Wood, regional superintendent.
 
School board members announced last week they plan to shorten the school day by 45 minutes to 5 1/2 hours and cut the lunch program, recess, art, music, computer classes and extracurricular activities next fall as a result of a recently failed tax referendum. They also eliminated physical education for kindergarten through 5th grade, according to a press release.
 
The state requires that physical education, art and music are taught in elementary grades unless a special waiver is granted, said Matt Vanover, spokesman for the Illinois State Board of Education.
 
While school board President Vickie Gallichio said voters had been warned months before the April election about potential cuts, the board's action still came as a shock.
 
Six board members deliberated May 21 behind closed doors during a time earmarked for discussions on "personnel," and then voted unanimously during open session on a slew of budget cuts, some of which were not directly related to personnel, such as a moratorium on building improvements, library supplies and athletic conference dues.
 
Gallichio said the decision was tough, but necessary to avoid borrowing money next year.
 
On Monday, the board is expected to vote again on the budget cuts, after it rescinds the May 21 vote and hears public comment, Gallichio said. The meeting is scheduled for 7 p.m. at the Big Hollow Middle School cafeteria. Marcouiller said an assistant state's attorney will present information to the board about the state's open-meetings law on another date.
 
"Just because we are rescinding [the first vote] does not mean it will not happen," Gallichio said Wednesday, adding that the board will provide a sample of a school day schedule. "Some changes might be made."
 
The board decided to eliminate recess and lunch to save money on staff, which results in a shorter school day, said board member Douglas Pedersen of Round Lake. Teachers instead would allow children to snack during a 15-minute classroom break, he said.
 
By the time the board emerged from the closed session about 10:30 p.m., only a few people remained in the audience to observe the vote and ask questions, Pedersen said. The board called Pazanin at home, where he was recovering from a medical condition, to notify him of the cuts, Pedersen said.
 
"Some of the people, their jaws probably hit the floor," Pedersen said. The reductions would save the district $1 million, including about $570,000 in staffing cuts, he said.
 
"We can make changes but not before we get more money from the state or pass a referendum," said Pedersen, who expects that some programs would continue on a "pay to play" basis.
 
Wood this week said she plans to talk to officials about whether their plans are legal.
 
"I will let [Pazanin] know about some of the pitfalls here if they don't do it the right way," Wood said. "We all need to work together. We're trying to look into it with them to produce the best possible arrangement."
 
The tiny yet rapidly growing school district enrolls 1,400 pupils, drawing from Ingleside, Fox Lake, Round Lake, Volo and Lakemoor. New housing developments are springing up throughout the area, providing more pupils without an adequate tax base or developer impact fees to support them, officials said.
 
The reactions of parents has been mixed, with some targeting their anger at those who opposed the referendum, which called for raising the tax rate 75 cents, up to $2.57 per $100 of equalized assessed valuation.
 
Even if voters had approved that measure, school officials said they would still need to borrow money to pay bills.
 
"Most of the parents I talked to didn't care," said one parent, Alyssa Bachara, who said she voted for the tax increase. "They think it's just a ploy."
 
Others are panicked and talking about moving, said Kerry Hubbard, a real estate agent and Big Hollow parent.
 
"The reality is, the property values will go down if the school district isn't reputable," Hubbard said.

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Illinois budget impasse
Democrats' feud allows GOP to gain voice in overtime session
Ray Long and Rick Pearson, Chicago Tribune, 6/1/07

SPRINGFIELD -- The months-long power struggle among Gov. Rod Blagojevich and fellow Democrats who run the House and Senate pushed the legislature into overtime Thursday night, giving Republicans a voice on how much money to spend on education, health care and transportation.

Blagojevich and Senate President Emil Jones, the governor's chief ally, could not resolve vast differences with House Speaker Michael Madigan over spending priorities and the size of the budget. Their efforts were complicated by a legislative revolt over higher electric rates.

The political embarrassment for Democrats effectively gives Republicans relevance in the political process since the failure to meet the midnight Thursday deadline with a state spending plan means that the votes of House GOP members will be necessary for the three-fifths majority needed to pass a budget.

"We offered a budget a couple of days ago that has the state living within its means without raising taxes, and we'll go into overtime with those same principles," said House Republican leader Tom Cross of Oswego. "We'll remain principled, but open to discussion."

Signaling that a final budget compromise could not be brokered and that a potentially long, politically hot summer was in store, Madigan (D-Chicago) told his members more than four hours before the deadline that they should be prepared to work three days a week through July 1, the start of the state's budget year, starting with a return to the Statehouse on Friday. Madigan adjourned the House not long afterward.

House Democrats a night earlier had approved a Madigan-backed state spending plan that was largely limited to increases in education funding and did not contain the massive expansion of state subsidized health care for which Blagojevich had avidly campaigned after winning a second term. The Democratic governor, already chagrined by the Madigan-led 107-0 defeat of his proposed $7 billion tax on businesses, had declared that lawmakers would not leave Springfield for the summer without addressing his health-care plans.

Blagojevich met with Jones on Thursday afternoon. But Madigan was not involved in the meeting and his spokesman said the speaker had not been invited to any meetings. The governor's office said no one was available to comment late Thursday.

Madigan's budget plan became intertwined Thursday with the fate of efforts to find electric-rate relief for weary customers of ComEd and Ameren, the Downstate power utility, who have seen rapid increases in their bills following the end of a near-decade long rate freeze. One Downstate lawmaker used a parliamentary maneuver to delay the House-passed budget from being considered by the Senate in an effort to force the utilities to come up with a sizable rate-relief package or face an extended rate freeze.

The maneuvering left the Senate in a state of flux. Downstate Democrats in the Senate also had refused to move forward with any key budget components, such as Jones' push for a wholesale expansion of casino gambling, unless the electricity rate issue was resolved.

Sen. Donne Trotter (D-Chicago), Jones' budget pointman, said Democrats had "squandered" a "golden opportunity" to push their agenda to help people throughout the state.

Rank and file lawmakers grumbled that they were caught in a battle of egos involving Blagojevich, Jones and Madigan.

"It would be easy for everybody involved to point fingers at somebody else," said Rep. John Fritchey (D-Chicago) "But at the end of the day, I think that the leaders have a collective responsibility to remember that they're job is to make sure the government runs efficiently and effectively."

Jones was seeking a gambling package that would create three suburban riverboats and a land-based casino for Chicago that would generate about $2.1 billion. That would be nearly three times larger than the new revenue contained in Madigan's version of a state budget, and it would provide money to launch Blagojevich's health-care expansion.

"We've got to do what we think is right," Sen. James Clayborne (D-Belleville) said of the decision to try to go ahead with a gambling bill. Clayborne said passing the gambling bill would put pressure on the House to decide what priorities should be funded.

Madigan has said there was not enough support among House Democrats for a big gambling bill, and House Republicans have opposed new casinos. Instead, Madigan has indicated that enough votes could exist in the House between Democrats and Republicans for a more modest plan that would expand gambling positions at current casinos, with the revenue used to fund a public-works program for schools and road construction.

The infighting among the state's leading Democrats could result in lengthy and uncomfortable budget negotiations. Earlier in the week, Blagojevich told reporters that he wanted "to keep the Republicans from getting into the game.

"Republicans like Rep. Cross ... are proposing no-growth budgets which will lead to deep cuts in things like health care and a lot of other social service things that are important to people," Blagojevich said. Cross has denied that his spending plans would result in cuts.

In addition to leaving uncertain the fate of Blagojevich's "Illinois Covered" health-care proposal, the legislature's inaction also left unresolved efforts by the Regional Transportation Authority, the umbrella organization for Chicago-area mass transit, to seek state help to fund city and suburban rail and bus operations and improve its infrastructure.

Earlier on Thursday, a House panel advanced RTA-backed legislation that would allow sales tax increases in Cook County and the collar counties and impose a new real-estate transfer tax in Chicago to raise an estimated $452.5 million for regional mass transit. Blagojevich has vowed to veto any legislation to increase sales taxes. But sponsoring Rep. Julie Hamos (D-Evanston) said she hoped to convince the governor and other lawmakers that it was a "regional tax" for a "regional issue."

In other action, Thursday:

*The House sent the Senate a measure aimed at settling one of the session's most heavily lobbied issues -- an effort by AT&T to seek a franchise to offer cable TV services anywhere in the state. AT&T had pushed the measure, contending it would create more competition to current locally franchised cable companies and lead to more services and lower customer bills.

*The House sent the governor legislation aimed at encouraging stem-cell research in Illinois. Sponsored by Cross, the bill would allow for all types of stem-cell research while banning human cloning. Supporters say such research has the potential to cure spinal cord injuries and diseases like diabetes. Opponents, such as groups against abortion rights, say some stem-cell research requires the destruction of human embryos and is immoral.

*Senate Democrats were poised to consider a separate bill approved previously by the House that would provide additional dollars for health care and state-issued military death benefits as well as fund a 9.6 percent salary increase for lawmakers, retroactive to January.

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Required moment of school silence sent to governor
John O'Connor, Associated Press, 6/1/07

SPRINGFIELD, Ill. -- Public school students in Illinois would be required to observe a moment of silence at the beginning of each day under legislation the House approved Thursday and sent to the governor.

Although it passed 86-26, the measure came under sharp criticism as a move to skirt a constitutional ban on forced prayer in public schools.

But Rep. Will Davis, who sponsored the bill, said the measure would not create "a religious exercise." The Homewood Democrat said it would simply give students an opportunity to settle down and reflect on the day's events before buckling down to study.

"We come into this chamber and we're asked to observe a moment of silence to begin our day," Davis said. "It's no more than that. And we have to do it."

Members of the clergy start daily sessions of both the House and Senate with prayers.

Current law allows teachers to ask students to be quiet for a moment before beginning instruction. The change, originated by Sen. Kimberly Lightford, D-Maywood, would require the silent time.

The American Civil Liberties Union took no position on the bill, but spokesman Ed Yohnka said it's important to monitor how the law is implemented to ensure no one is forced to pray.

"There's nothing that currently bars students from engaging in voluntary prayer in school," Yohnka said, adding that there are at least 10,000 student groups across the country who pray voluntarily in public schools.

Critics said the proposal could be used to coerce religious activity, which the U.S. Supreme Court has ruled violates the Constitution's separation of church and state.

Other opponents said it amounted to an unnecessary requirement that could hamper learning.

"If we're making them do it for two seconds, we haven't done a damn thing. If we make it five minutes, we're taking away class time," said Rep. John Fritchey, D-Chicago. "If we make it somewhere in the middle, I don't know what we're doing."

After clearing the Senate 58-1 in March, the legislation goes to Gov. Rod Blagojevich, who would have to sign it to make it law. A spokeswoman did not immediately respond to a question about whether he supports the proposal.

The bill is SB1463.

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'Matt's Law' goes to governor's desk
Kate Clements, Champaign News-Gazette, 6/1/07

SPRINGFIELD – Legislation to add distracted driving to the list of traffic safety issues taught in driver's education classes is now on its way to the governor's desk.

State Sen. Mike Frerichs, D-Gifford, said SB 1557 was prompted by the tragic death of bicyclist Matt Wilhelm last September. The 25-year-old University of Illinois graduate was struck and killed in Urbana by a teen driver who ran off the road while downloading ring tones for her cell phone.

The bill won unanimous Senate approval last month and passed the House on Thursday by a vote of 102 to 14. One of the dissenters, state Rep. Mike Bost, R-Murphysboro, said he voted no because he felt the legislation was unnecessary.

"We're putting into law something that is just common sense," he said. "When do we stop?"

But state Rep. Naomi Jakobsson, D-Urbana, said focused education on the subject "is critical to reducing the amount of distracted driving."

The measure is part of a package of legislation that was prompted by the Wilhelm case and supported by local lawmakers from both parties.

HB 1382, sponsored by state Rep. Bill Black, R-Danville, would create the offense of negligent vehicular homicide, a Class A misdemeanor. The legislation fills what prosecutors say is a gap in the law between a petty traffic offense and felony reckless homicide.

HB 663, also sponsored by Black, requires the Secretary of State to revoke the license of a driver convicted of a traffic violation that results in a death. Currently, revocation is optional, not mandatory.

Both measures have passed the House and are awaiting Senate action.

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Veto moment of silence bill
State Journal-Register Editorial, 6/1/07

We wouldn’t blame schoolteachers for wanting a moment of silence in their often-hectic school days. They could probably use several moments on most days.

But we strongly question the wisdom of having state government force each public schoolteacher in the state to begin every school day with a moment of silence. Unfortunately, this questionable bill - Senate Bill 1463 - is now headed to the governor’s desk.

Let’s not mince words here. This is an attempt to push prayer in school while staying just a whisker this side of violating the U.S. Constitution.

We realize that some people applaud the idea of prayer in school. And that’s fine. In fact, Illinois law already guarantees that students can pray all day long if they so choose. The important part of that sentence is “if they so choose.”

Back in 2002, then-Gov. George Ryan signed a bill amending the Silent Reflection Act, changing it to the Silent Reflection and Student Prayer Act. The law guarantees students the right to observe voluntary, nondisruptive prayer anytime during the school day.

The law, currently, also allows teachers along with their students to observe a moment of silence as a group to begin each school day. However, the bill heading to Gov. Rod Blagojevich’s desk will change the word “may” to the word “shall,” thus requiring every public schoolteacher in the state to preside over a moment of silence each school day.

Good luck. We can only imagine how silent some students will be once told they must be silent by order of state law.

But more importantly, why does the state feel the need to force people to be contemplative or prayerful? That is not actually even possible, and it certainly is not appropriate in a country founded on personal freedom.

The state already guarantees a person’s right to pray or to meditate or to be silent for whatever reason. That is how it should be - a free exercise of this personal right.

Forcing a teacher and his or her class to observe an amorphous moment of silence crosses the line from accommodation to a state mandate of something that looks an awful lot like group prayer. Of course, the bill makes sure to emphasize that it requires no such thing.

The moment of silence “shall not be conducted as a religious exercise but shall be an opportunity for silent prayer or for silent reflection on the anticipated activities of the day.”

And if it walks, quacks and flies like a duck, it surely is not a duck.

We believe individual classroom teachers have a much better grasp of whether it would be more beneficial for their students to start the day with some quiet time or maybe with a rousing rendition of “America the Beautiful” or maybe even a recitation of the multiplication tables up to 12 x 12.

But sponsor of the bill, Sen. Kimberly Lightford, D-Maywood, told Chicago Tribune columnist Eric Zorn that she actually knows what’s best for school kids across Illinois each morning. And that’s a moment of silence, like it or not!

“Here in the General Assembly we open every day with a prayer and Pledge of Allegiance. I don’t get a choice about that. I don’t see why students should have a choice,” said Lightford.

Even those who normally question state mandates found it easier to just vote “yes” on this one. It’s much more difficult to explain the importance of not muddling the roles of church and state than it is to simply wave the flag for a good, moral moment of forced, prayerful silence. But it’s not very American. And that’s why Blagojevich ought to veto this sneaky legislation.

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Time to reform school funding system
Letter by Sharon G. Voliva and Chris Slowik, Daily Southtown, 6/1/07
Voliva, of Dolton, and Chris Slowik, of Hickory Hills, are school board members in their hometowns. They are the chair and vice-chair, respectively, of the Better Funding for Better Schools Coalition.

Dear Illinois General Assembly,

This is an open letter to all legislators in the Illinois General Assembly, especially the leadership. This letter is from two public school board members from two different districts, with 40 years of experience between us. We also are officers of the Better Funding for Better Schools Coalition, a grass-roots group of citizens from all corners of Illinois, with an estimated membership of more than 250,000 people.

Many of our members have been working for school funding reform for more than 20 years. In all that time, we never have heard the public outcry to solve this problem as loud as it is in 2007. This year, even the Chicago Tribune recognized that something must be done and soon. Our students are losing programs and services because of insufficient funding for our schools. Opportunities are being lost every day that will impact the lives of our youngest citizens. There is awareness now from just about everyone that a solution is needed as soon as possible. The exception is the radical anti-tax organizations that oppose all increases for everything all the time.

The dialogue on how to solve the school funding problem has reached new levels this year. We understand there is some disagreement on how to raise the revenue to do what needs to be done. While several plans have been introduced, they don't seem to please everyone. We believe House Bill/Senate Bill 750 is the best, most comprehensive, most sustainable plan we have seen in our 20 years of working on this issue. We understand that some compromise on the revenue side may need to happen.

We call on all members of the General Assembly to find the way to accomplish school funding reform that will benefit all students in public school in Illinois before the scheduled adjournment of spring session. You are the ones with the ability to resolve this longstanding problem, and you are the ones with the responsibility to do it. We also call on the governor to support and sign an acceptable plan to fix the school funding problem. We know millions of Illinois citizens join us when we say it is our sincere hope that the solution will be found before one more year passes.

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Who crowned Jones, Madigan and Blagojevich king?

Pantagraph Editorial, 6/1/07

Like children who wait until the last day of the weekend to do their assigned homework, the Illinois Legislature has a bad habit of leaving the tough issues - particularly budget issues - to the last moment.

In Illinois, they have an extra reason to approve the budget before the stroke of midnight on May 31.

At 12:01 a.m. June 1, the rules change and a supermajority of the Legislature - 60 percent - is needed for approval of legislation, including the budget. In other words, the minority party finally has a voice.

That requirement strikes fear into Democrats.

Referring to the House Republican leader, state Rep. Bob Molaro, D-Chicago, said, "We don't want to make Tom Cross the king of Illinois."

Well, we don't remember a coronation ceremony for Senate President Emil Jones, House Speaker Michael Madigan or Gov. Rod Blagojevich.

That's among the problems in Illinois: too many politicians wanting to be or acting like "king" or even "emperor."

Illinoisans don't live in a monarchy or an empire. They are not "subjects" - loyal or otherwise.

Illinoisans live in a representative democracy and the people they elect are supposed to serve the public, not the other way around.

Republicans should be part of the negotiations on key issues such as the state's budget - before May 31. And we felt the same way about Democrats when the Republicans were in charge.

The people in Illinois who elected Republicans to represent them are entitled to a voice in how the state is run.

The best thing Illinoisans have going for them as protection against single-party rule is the fact that Jones, Madigan and Blagojevich, despite being from the same party, rarely see eye to eye.

When the governor finally met with the speaker this week about the budget and failed to reach an agreement, his "only regret" was that he missed the chance to throw out the first pitch at a minor league baseball game at a new stadium in Marion.

That stadium project, by the way, was partially funded with a $3 million state grant for which Blagojevich pushed.

The primary investor in the privately owned stadium is John Simmons, an attorney who personally and through his law firm donated nearly $1 million to Democratic candidates, including Blagojevich, in the two years preceding the awarding of the grant.

No wonder the state has budget problems.

Blagojevich should worry more about playing ball with Republican leaders and his fellow Democrats and show more "regret" for his role in the impasse.

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GHS graduation flap widely reported
Students meet with administrators about getting diplomas
By Jane Carlson, The Register-Mail, 6/1/07

GALESBURG - The five Galesburg High School graduates punished for the behavior of audience members at Sunday's graduation ceremony continue to fight for their diplomas, saying they shouldn't be penalized for the actions of others.

The graduates were denied diplomas because members of the audience yelled and screamed while the students were on stage, a violation of a policy enacted last year to maintain decorum at graduation. Four of the students are black and one is of mixed race.

Their story was picked up by national media Thursday, with GHS graduate Nadia Trent and her mother Valerie appearing on a brief Fox News segment around 1:20 p.m.

There was no mention on the segment of the denial of diplomas being racially motivated, although the graduates and their families have made such claims to other media.

Administrators maintain the situation has to do with behavior, not race.

GHS Principal Tom Chiles said four administrators located throughout the auditorium took notes on significant outbursts during the ceremony. Afterwards, they compared notes.

"Each administrator had the same five people written down and no one else," Chiles said.

Bill Morris of Video Media Productions videotaped the graduation ceremony and shared the footage with The Register-Mail, WQAD in Moline and Fox News.
 
"You can definitely hear the hooting for the graduates who were reprimanded, but it's real brief. It's not like it infringed on anyone before or after them," Morris said.

Before graduation, students and their parents were required to sign a contract acknowledging the policy, which outlaws behavior including verbal outbursts, use of noisemakers and focusing attention on a single student.

Trent and Amanda Kelley say they don't know who yelled for them, so they shouldn't be punished for the actions of others.

"It wasn't a family member, I know that," Kelley said. "I heard somebody say my name and I didn't think it was that loud."

They still are considered GHS graduates, and will be able to get transcripts to prove that status, but they didn't get diplomas. Nor were they able to participate in Project Graduation, an all-night party for the senior class.

Kelley said she understands the school policy, because she's attended GHS graduation ceremonies where audience members' behavior was disruptive. The policy was enacted last year after school officials received complaints the 2005 ceremony was out of hand.


"But this year it was way better than in the past," Kelley said. "There were no bells, whistles, nothing."

So far, none of the students have accepted the district's offer to do community service to get their diplomas.

"I'm just going to keep fighting. I've done enough work. I shouldn't have to do more work for somebody else's actions," Kelley said.

Kelley and Trent and family members met with District 205 administrators Thursday to discuss the situation. Superintendent Gene Denisar said administrators are reviewing each student's case individually and are open to reversing earlier decisions if that is deemed appropriate.

"I feel like they understand where we're coming from," Kelley said.

They also asked the students and their families for input on how to improve the policy, according to Kelley. She said she told administrators the policy was not enforced fairly at this year's graduation because administrators chose to call attention only to the loudest disruptions.

"I think the school probably would have looked at the policy regardless. That's what you do to make sure a policy, particularly a new policy, is doing what it's supposed to," Chiles said.

Chiles said graduation policies like the one at GHS are not that common, but disruptive behavior at commencement ceremonies is.

"If you ask most school officials, they will tell you commencement outbursts and behavior are a problem," Chiles said.

A statement released Thursday by the school district emphasized the five students still are considered graduates.

Matt Vanover, spokesperson for the Illinois State Board of Education, said there does not appear to be any sort of provision that mandates a school district to provide a diploma, but said diploma can mean different things in different school districts.

Vanover said the state board's concern over the policy is how it would be fairly enforced.

"The board would have some concerns about not awarding something to an individual who has earned it (because of) the actions of someone else," Vanover said.

Tom West, attorney for District 205, declined to comment on the situation.

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NATIONAL

Schools going green to save on electric bills, teach students
AP, 5/28/07

Lithonia, Georgia -- Nestled in the lush trees of suburban Atlanta's Davidson-Arabia Mountain Nature Preserve sits the foundation of a school that is being built with partly recycled materials.
 
When it's finished, Arabia Mountain High School will have naturally lit classrooms and an aggressive recycling program.
 
It's part of a "green school" movement that is growing in popularity nationwide, with schools leaning toward solar panels, living roofs and wetlands. School districts say the environmentally friendly properties save energy costs while educating students about the world around them.
 
"In the past 6 months, it's been overwhelming," said Lindsay Baker, manager of the U.S. Green Building Council's school certification program. "There is a general agreement in schools that this is the issue that schools need to be thinking about."
 
Nearly 300 schools are on a waiting list for certification from the council, which sets nationally recognized standards for environmentally friendly buildings. So many schools are going green that the council, which previously certified schools based on commercial-building guidelines, just came out with benchmarks specifically for schools.
 
So far, 27 schools have received the "green" certification.
 
The Council of Educational Facility Planners International estimates that schools will spend $53 billion this year on construction alone and that green building will comprise as much as 10 percent of the school construction market by 2010, a rapid growth from almost nonexistence a few years ago.
 
In Colorado, ice made during off-peak hours at Fossil Ridge High School in Fort Collins helps cool the building during the day.
 
The roof of the gym at Tarkington Elementary School in Chicago is a flower garden that helps insulate the building during the city's cold winters.
 
Such wildflower gardens and solar panel arrays make perfect hands-on learning labs for students, and the sunlight-lit classrooms create happier, healthier children, educators said.
 
A study by school officials in Washington state found green schools have better student performance and fewer absences. In 2005, Washington state lawmakers used the study to require new schools getting state money to be green.
 
For teachers like Rod Shroufe at Clackamas High School in Clackamas, Oregon -- one of the first green schools in the nation when it opened six years ago -- the green building movement makes his job easier.
 
The environmental studies teacher takes his students on strolls through the school's adjoining wetland and lets them explore the solar panel array on the top of the building as part of class projects.
 
His students have put more than 3,000 native plants in the ground around the school in the past two years, helping to eradicate an acre of blackberries, which are not native to Oregon and choke out other vegetation.
 
"There are real tangible things these kids get from it in addition to knowledge," Shroufe said. "Hopefully when they're adults they'll make informed decisions based on that."
 
North Clackamas senior Trevor Dunsmuir hopes to work at an environmental nonprofit after college, a path he chose after taking Shroufe's classes. As his senior project, the 17-year-old organized an environmental club and has helped neighboring schools do the same.
 
"That's pretty much my favorite thing about this school," he said.
 
In suburban Atlanta, crews are building Arabia Mountain High School, Georgia's first green school built by a public school district. The $53 million DeKalb County school, set to open in 2009, is designed to preserve the pristine wilderness around it while teaching students to be kinder to the planet.
 
"You don't have to go too far to study -- it's right on your back porch," said Cassandra Anderson-Littlejohn, chairwoman of DeKalb County Board of Education. "It's a wonderful opportunity for learning, as well as an opportunity to conserve dollars for the system."
 
Like most school districts building green schools, DeKalb County is willing to shell out more money on the front end -- generally about 2 percent more in construction costs -- to ensure lower utility bills over the long run.
 
The Washington state study found green schools cut energy costs by up to 50 percent.
 
Happy educators and students also mean happy parents.
 
"We get so many compliments about how nice a school it is," said Jill Wingler, whose son, Josh, is in first grade at Third Creek Elementary in rural Statesville, North Carolina, an early green school. "We're losing our resources, and children need to be aware of these things."
 
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Governor wavers on voucher decision
By Jeremiah Stettler and Judy Magid, The Salt Lake Tribune, 5/28/07

Gov. Jon Huntsman Jr. has changed his mind about calling a special legislative session to resolve the controversy over private school vouchers.
   
Huntsman issued a statement Saturday saying he would call a special session "if necessary" to ensure a decisive November referendum on vouchers - an apparent reversal to his joint statement with Senate President John Valentine and House Speaker Greg Curtis.
   
The trio announced Thursday that a special session "will not be called since an easy and practical remedy does not exist."
   
Huntsman spokesman Mike Mower said Sunday the governor's position hasn't changed. Huntsman's goal has been an up-or-down voucher vote, which he believed could be achieved without a special session.
   
But almost as soon as Thursday's joint statement was issued - pledging to "honor the rule of law" and "respect the outcome of the election" - Huntsman and his legislative counterparts found themselves at odds over its meaning.
   
The governor argued vouchers should live or die based on the popular vote - even if vouchers prevail by one vote. Legislative leaders countered that Utahns should settle the issue based on a majority of legislative districts.
   
To complicate matters further, Senate Majority Leader Curt Bramble and Rep. Steve Urquhart, R-St. George, filed a petition Thursday with the Utah Supreme Court claiming vouchers are here to stay regardless of the outcome of the November vote on HB 148.
   
They argue vouchers were also established in House bill 174, an amendment to the original bill that used much of its predecessor's language and passed with a referendum-proof two-thirds vote in the House and Senate.
   
"Gov. Huntsman anticipates that the courts will clarify the questions surrounding the voucher vote," Mower said. "However, if the courts do not clarify the voucher questions, calling a special session of the Legislature to address these concerns is an option the governor is willing to use."
   
In his statement Saturday, Huntsman said voters deserve a "clear pathway forward on Utah's voucher policy." Their voice should be the "ultimate decision," he said.
   
Meanwhile, the Utah State Board of Education meets Tuesday to decide whether it will implement a voucher system as advised by Utah Attorney General Mark Shurtleff. Officials expect litigation to follow either decision.
   
In his words: Guv's statement
   
Governor calls for voucher clarity: When voters enter the polling booths in November they deserve a clear pathway forward on Utah's voucher policy. Right now there are several lawsuits moving through the judicial system and I will be watching with great interest to see if clarity results. If the voters of Utah are not given understanding from that judicial process within a reasonable amount of time, I will do whatever is necessary to ensure an up or down vote. I consider the public's voice on the HB 148 referendum to be the ultimate decision on Utah's voucher policy. I will call the Legislature into a special session if necessary to assure the finality of the November vote.
 
House bill 148
   
* Establishes a scholarship program for qualifying school-age children who newly enroll in eligible private schools, and lower income school-age children who continue their enrollment in eligible private schools.
* Provides for scholarships within that program of $500 to $3,000, depending on family size and income, increasing those scholarship amounts in future years.
* Allows school districts to retain some per-student funding for scholarship students who transfer to private schools.
   
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Teacher pension fund faces $19 billion funding gap
AP, 5/26/07

SACRAMENTO – The California teacher pension system faces a $19.6 billion funding gap over the next three decades, despite three years of strong investment returns, according to a new report.

That means teachers, school districts and the state will need to boost contributions to the nation's second-largest public pension system, the actuarial consulting firm Milliman reported.

The funding gap is narrowing for the California State Teachers' Retirement System and the nearly 800,000 teachers it covers, the report said. The long-term deficit was projected at $24.2 billion as recently as 2004, but double-digit investment games reduced the expected shortfall.

With $168 billion in assets, CalSTRS can cover 87 percent of its pension obligations, up from 82 percent in 2003, the firm said. That is nearly at the current average of 88 percent coverage for 125 state retirement systems surveyed this year by Wilshire Consulting.

“I'm encouraged by the progress,” said Dana Dillon, who chairs the CalSTRS board. “But it's not going to take care of it.”

Milliman projected the fund needs a 3.3 percent boost in annual pension contributions to end the deficit. Currently, school districts pay 8.25 percent of payroll toward teacher pensions, while the state pays 2 percent and teachers contribute 8 percent of their pay.

The pension's trustees are supporting legislation to increase contribution rates in 2009 without lowering benefits. The proposal would raise the teachers' rate to 8.5 percent and gradually increase the state's contribution to 3.25 percent. The school district contribution would increase incrementally to 13 percent.

The fund had a surplus as recently as 1998. But state lawmakers approved $11 billion in sweetened benefits and a smaller state contribution in 2000, just before the economy soured.

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Steroids testing measure approved
All high school athletes will face screening in fall
By Sam Khan Jr., Houston Chronicle, 5/28/07

Texas lawmakers on Monday passed a bill requiring random steroids testing for high school athletes that would begin in time for this fall's football season, drawing a reaction of cautious optimism from some officials, coaches and students.

"I think the intent is very good. I believe in it, and I think every coach will follow it," said David Aymond, football coach at North Shore, who nevertheless has questions. "How it is going to be enforced is very unclear to us."

The Texas House voted 140-4 to send the bill to Gov. Rick Perry, who has not publicly stated any opposition. It requires the state to pay for testing, rather than force schools to raise ticket prices to cover the cost as was proposed earlier this session. The University Interscholastic League, the state's governing body for public school sports, will run the program.

Budget planners set aside $3 million per year, and the program requires a "statistically significant sample" of students, said one of the bill's sponsors, Sen. Kyle Janek, R-Houston.

Athletes who test positive, or refuse to be tested, could be suspended from play. The UIL has flexibility to set rules and penalties.

Katy pitcher Aaron Daab, who has undergone testing, said it levels the playing field.

"If you're competing against someone who is using it, you're at a disadvantage, so I think it's a good idea," he said.

The Texas High School Coaches Association, the Texas Medical Association, and groups representing public school districts and administrators supported a testing program.

The bill would require coaches to complete a training program on the dangers of using steroids, which can cause dramatic mood swings, heart disease and cancer.

"It will help secure healthy and safe lives for our young people," said Rep. Dan Flynn, R-Canton, the House sponsor.

About 130 of Texas' 1,300 public high schools already test for steroids, including several in the Houston area.

"I think it's more prevalent in some areas than in others, but it's definitely something that needs to be addressed," said Daryl Wade, the Houston Independent School District's athletic director.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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House OKs religion in school
Bill moves to Perry's desk
AP, 5/28/07

AUSTIN – Texas students would have greater freedom to express their religious views on school campuses under a bill passed Saturday by the House and sent to Gov. Rick Perry, who has publicly supported the measure.

Under the legislation, religious beliefs expressed in homework, artwork and other assignments would be judged by traditional academic standards. Students couldn't be penalized or rewarded because of the religious content of their work.

Supporters say the bill is needed to protect students from censorship and school districts from lawsuits. But opponents argue it will lead to religious discrimination among students.

"We are allowing our young people to express their faith, whatever that faith is," said Rep. Larry Phillips, a Sherman Republican.

At an April news conference, Perry was surrounded by children and parents who said their religious speech was quashed at public school. Supporters of the bill have cited examples of students being prohibited from wishing troops overseas a "Merry Christmas" or told they couldn't distribute religious bracelets at recess.

The House had previously amended the bill to say the religious expression or speech could not discriminate against someone else's race, age, sexual preference or religious belief.

The Senate took that amendment out and the House voted to approve the Senate version of the bill 108-28. Several supporters argued that students should be allowed to express religious beliefs regarding sexual preference or whether their religion is superior to others.

Rep. Scott Hochberg, a Houston Democrat, argued against the bill, warning it would open up campuses to hate speech.

Supporters say the bill, sponsored by Rep. Charlie Howard, R-Sugar Land, writes into law protections already provided by U.S. Supreme Court rulings.

Critics, however, say it is an unconstitutional effort to encourage religion over non-religion in the state's public schools.

"The only good thing about this bill was the nondiscrimination clause," said Rep. Lon Burnam, a Fort Worth Democrat who predicted it would prompt lawsuits against schools.

The bill also requires schools to establish a "limited public forum" at all school events in which students speak. Schools would have to develop a neutral method for selecting students to speak at school events and graduation ceremonies, and provide a written or oral disclaimer that the student's speech was not endorsed by the school district.

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More schools are ditching final exams
A number of campuses use oral presentations to determine if students have earned promotion
By Carla Rivera, Los Angeles Times Staff Writer, 5/29/07

Instead of late-night cramming and tutorials on how to ace multiple-choice tests, Joshua Koenig prepared for finals by rehearsing a PowerPoint presentation on the challenges of trading stock options and what he learned while attempting to climb Mt. Rainier with his father.

When the day came, the 18-year-old's audience at Wildwood School in West Los Angeles included parents, grandparents and friends, as well as teachers and advisors who judged whether his performance demonstrated his growth as a learner.

As thousands of public school students sat for standardized tests last week and others prepare for upcoming final exams, Wildwood is one of a number of schools across the country using oral presentations — or exhibitions — to determine students' readiness to move on to the next grade, or in Koenig's case, to graduate.

In an era when the federal No Child Left Behind Act and California's state high school exit exam exert pressure on students to master standardized fill-in-the-bubble tests, a growing number of educators argue that exhibitions offer a better way to assess students' academic achievements.

Testimony last week during congressional hearings on the reauthorization of President Bush's education reform law focused on the need for the federal government to support states that use performance-based assessments and on the increasing frustration that parents and teachers have with high stakes testing.

"I think what politicians are hearing right now is that tests are driving the curriculum and narrowing the way kids learn, so there is a lot of pushback from parents and teachers," said Linda Darling-Hammond, a professor of education at Stanford University who has studied assessment systems in dozens of states. "There's more receptivity to the possibility of a different approach to assessment than there might have been five years ago."

The Los Angeles Unified School District recently approved a plan to establish 10 small schools — the Belmont Pilot Schools — in the Pico-Union district that would have autonomy over staffing, budget, curriculum and assessment. The idea is modeled after a successful Boston program. The first of the 10 scheduled to open in September — Civitas SOL, or School of Leadership — will employ performance-based assessment. But its students will still have to take state standards-based tests.

"Standardized tests are just snapshots that measure mostly the ability to recall facts, whereas performance-based assessments measure the ability to synthesize information, compare and contrast, look for different points of view and think critically," said Brett Bradshaw, director of strategic communications for the Coalition of Essential Schools, a nonprofit organization with about 250 member campuses that promotes exhibitions as a preferred form of student assessment. The Oakland-based group also offers technical assistance to schools in design, community connections, leadership and classroom practice.

"The student assessments look more like a PhD defense or an oral presentation where a student has to get in front of a committee of academics," Bradshaw said. "They help to develop a poise and a literacy of how to interact with adults that serve these students well in higher education and the workplace."

To support its philosophy, the coalition designated May as National Exhibition Month, with more than 100 affiliated schools in 25 states — including Wildwood — opening their doors to parents and community members to form a sort of mini-town hall in which students demonstrate their skills.

At Wildwood, a K-12 independent campus that charges as much as $24,425 for tuition, learning at all grade levels is project-based and includes community service and internships.

Students are given narrative assessments rather than grades to chart progress, and the program is built around developing seven habits of "heart and mind," including collaboration, ethical behavior, perspective and service to the common good.

All courses, including math, sciences, literature and the arts, meet University of California admissions criteria. For institutions that require them, Wildwood will convert narrative assessments into grades, said Jeanne Fauci, communications and outreach director.

The school has timed writing assignments and quizzes and also offers after-school test prep courses for the SATs and other tests required for college entrance. It offers honors classes but no Advanced Placement courses because they clash with the school's philosophy.

Seniors must put together a portfolio incorporating essays, research papers, reading logs, graph and statistical analyses and multimedia projects reflecting two years of academic work. The portfolio is included in their oral presentations.

At her exhibition, Mallory Fuhrman, 18, spoke about how she planned to expand the sense of independence she gained at Wildwood. She talked about how a project involving a glass of tea and the diffusion of light patterns from a beam of sunlight strengthened her appreciation of physics.

She also mentioned her internship on the staff of Tiger Beat and BOP magazines, among other projects. Fuhrman spoke candidly about her rejection by USC and about deciding to attend the University of Oregon: "Close to home and still far enough away."

"I felt comfortable and confident," Fuhrman said afterward of her presentation as her parents, Joe and Adrienne Fuhrman, stood by.

"I'm very proud of you," Adrienne Fuhrman told her daughter. "I learned some things I didn't know about you."

Koenig, a lanky youth with tousled hair, stood at a lectern beside a multimedia display and spoke about several projects, including the challenges of using a virtual trade tool to set up a stock portfolio and an unsuccessful attempt to reach the top of Mt. Rainier, in which he realized that he failed because he didn't believe enough in his abilities.

Koenig also recited a funny story of a mishap-prone student retreat he helped coordinate that was supposed to consider the question of what it means to be a man but mainly focused on what it means to be an adolescent boy.

After a question-and-answer period, Koenig, who will enter the University of Michigan in the fall, said the exhibition experience had improved his speaking and debate skills. He doesn't know how to study for a more traditional final and might have to get help with that next year, he acknowledged, but "it's been a real good experience for me."

His father agreed. "His comfort in being able to speak openly and honestly in front of a group of people, some of whom he doesn't know, and be painfully honest about his shortcoming, that's a real strength," said Skip Koenig, whose 16-year-old daughter, Lindsay, also attends Wildwood.

Of the 50 graduating Wildwood seniors, all will be attending college this fall. The school hasn't done a formal survey of how their students fare in college, but studies by Darling-Hammond and others indicate that students from schools with nontraditional, performance-based assessments stay in college at higher rates and do better on standardized tests.

"We have students that say that first midterm was hard, but by the time they get to finals, they've got it," said Melinda Tsapatsaris, director of Wildwood's secondary school. "They've been given the problem-solving tools to figure it out on their own."

Indeed, such students may have an advantage, at least in the college admissions process, said Barmak Nassirian, associate executive director of the American Assn. of Collegiate Registrars and Admissions Officers.

"Nontraditional applicants are more time- and resource-intensive in terms of how much work there is involved in better understanding where they come from," Nassirian said. "But there's huge movement in admissions to shift in the direction of a more holistic approach that's much more comprehensive instead of looking at mechanical parameters such as GPA, class rank and test scores.

"If there's real evidence of creative learning, civic engagement, leadership and the kind of student who's going to make a significant contribution to his or her classmates, they will stand out," he said.

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State test bars thousands from high school diploma
By Scott Stephens and Angela Townsend, Cleveland Plain Dealer Reporters, 5/27/07

Brooke Proctor was looking forward to graduating with her classmates on June 5.

But instead of strolling across a commencement stage, the Euclid High School senior will be enrolling in summer school.

Brooke is among thousands of Ohio seniors who learned last week that they will be denied diplomas this spring because they failed one or more parts of the Ohio Proficiency Test.
 
Theirs is the first graduating class in the state required to pass the five-part exam, which educators agree is a more-challenging exam than the old Ohio proficiency test. Students take the test in 10th grade and get six chances to retake it through their senior year. In many cases, failure to master even one subject on the test is enough to keep the cap and gown in mothballs.

Brooke, like many students, stumbled on the science portion of the exam.

"She has all her credits and everything - it just came down to the test," said Tracy Youngblood, Brooke's mother. "It's a hard test. Everybody said that if you study hard and work hard, you can pass it. She studied hard, but she couldn't pass science."

She won't be alone. Before the test was given in March, state education officials said as many as 30,000 seniors needed to pass one or more parts to get their diplomas. Cleveland had more than 1,700 students needing to pass at least one part of the March exam.

As the test results roll in, many districts are trying to determine how many seniors won't graduate.

Some of the students wouldn't have graduated because they didn't pass enough courses. But educators agree that the test will have a great impact.

At Bedford High School, 15 of the 50 seniors who took the test this spring passed. At Valley Forge High School in Parma Heights, 13 of the 32 seniors who took the test passed.

"The test is certainly more demanding than the old proficiency test was," said Russell Brown, executive director of research and assessment for the Cleveland schools.

In Toledo, 147 seniors - about 10 percent of the district's graduating class - failed at least one portion of the exam. On Monday, nearly three dozen of those students protested outside the district's administrative headquarters, including a 4.0 grade-point student who has been accepted at the University of Toledo.

"We're seeing more students not pass," said Columbus schools Superintendent Gene Harris. "This is not much different than 1991, the first year for the proficiency test."
 
Virtually all districts will offer students such as Brooke a chance to be tutored on the specific subject area they missed in summer school. Then, in July, they'll get one final chance to take the grad uation test. Many districts have a later-summer gradation for those who pass.

In some districts, heightened awareness - or fear - of the graduation test resulted in improved graduation percentages. In Lorain, for instance, the percentage of seniors who will not graduate because they didn't pass a test dropped from 14 percent to 11 percent.

And although hundreds of Cleveland seniors are expected to be denied diplomas, there appear to be some gains for students who took the test, including sophomores and juniors, Brown said. Another good sign: More students are showing up and taking the test.

"We hope our underclassmen are aware how important this test is," said Lincoln Haughton, Cleveland's deputy chief of secondary education. "If the community really pushed this and parents really understood that this test is a must, I think we'd see far greater success."
 
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Judge: Schools can keep Potter books
Tribune News Service, 5/30/07

LAWRENCEVILLE, GEORGIA -- The adventures of boy wizard Harry Potter can stay in Gwinnett County school libraries, despite a mother's objections, a judge ruled Tuesday.
 
Laura Mallory argued that the popular fiction series is an attempt to indoctrinate children in a religion -- witchcraft. She said she may take her case to federal court.
 
The ruling by Superior Judge Ronnie Batchelor upheld a decision by the Georgia Board of Education, which supported local school officials.
 
Victoria Sweeny, an attorney for county school officials, had said the judge should respect their authority on the issue.
 
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Arkansas High Court says schools are adequately funded
Associated Press

LITTLE ROCK, Arkansas -- State lawmakers are adequately funding public schools, the Arkansas Supreme Court ruled Thursday in ending a long-running lawsuit.

The court cited the Legislature's additional spending in this year's session, including a $122 million increase in per-student funding and $456 million from the state's surplus to pay for repairs to dilapidated school buildings.

The court singled out the Legislature's continuing review of its education efforts. A report last month by two court-appointed special masters concluded the framework for an improved education system existed, but constant review was needed.

"What is especially meaningful to the court is the masters' finding that the General Assembly has expressly shown that constitutional compliance in the field of education is an ongoing task requiring constant study, review and adjustment," Justice Robert L. Brown wrote.

A school district in eastern Arkansas sued the state in 1992, alleging that it didn't spend enough money on schools and that the money spent was distributed unfairly. Justices ruled against the state in 2002 and again in 2005.

Late last year, four school districts asked the court to maintain oversight, arguing that while the Legislature had appropriated extra money, it hadn't adequately addressed buildings, programs for non-English speakers and money for rapidly growing districts.

The boost in per-student funding and money to repair dilapidated school buildings in this year's legislative session raised hopes among Gov. Mike Beebe and lawmakers that the state was close to ending the long-running case.

A spokesman for Beebe said the governor was pleased with the court's decision, but declined to comment further until Beebe had reviewed the order.

David Matthews, the attorney for the Rogers school district and the lead lawyer in the case, declined to comment until he had read the court's ruling.

Attorney General Dustin McDaniel said the court's decision showed that the school reforms would help generations of Arkansans.

"The court has said yes, it's about spending more money and showing your commitment to education, but what's more important is how you spend it," McDaniel said.

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Governor vetoes small-schools bill  
Nate Jenkins, Grand Island Independent

LINCOLN, Neb. — The fight over elementary-only schools in the state, waged for more than two years now in the Capitol and in courts, will enter yet another phase following action by Gov. Dave Heineman and the Legislature in the last hours of the legislative session.

Heineman vetoed a bill that would have allowed Class I districts that once dotted rural parts of the state to return. They were wiped out following passage of a 2005 merger law.

A couple hours later, lawmakers who opposed the veto fell six votes short of overriding it.

Heineman and supporters of his veto said the bill posed too many roadblocks to formation of Class I districts and did not recognize the will of voters who last year repealed the law that merged the districts with adjoining, K-12 districts.

"The result of that election clearly established that a majority of Nebraskans want an opportunity for our small rural schools to exist," Heineman said in his veto letter to the Legislature.

The bill (LB658) "clearly mandates numerous and difficult requirements that the patrons of small, rural school districts would have to complete in order to recreate their former schools," he said.

Supporters of the bill said the veto leaves the small schools Heineman and rural senators support in the lurch, their fates controlled for another year by the K-12 districts they merged with last summer. The 2005 merger law dissolved the small districts but didn't immediately shut down schools. Some now have been closed and at least one senator predicted more with no law in place.

"The bulldozers may be fired up within the hour," said Sen. Greg Adams of York.

Under the bill, creating a new district would have required voter approval both from voters in the proposed Class I district and the K-12 district that absorbed it. Small-school supporters said that requiring a vote from residents of the K-12 districts, along with numerous administrative steps it would have taken to form a district, would make the bill little-used.

"While I share many legislators' concerns with an approach to this issue that would call simply for the creation of every former Class I district exactly as it existed prior to its dissolution, I do not believe that the process set forth in LB658 to form and govern Class I districts is fair," Heineman said in his veto letter.

Class I advocates had hoped voters' repeal of the merger law would prompt the Legislature to bring back all the small districts. The districts were dissolved before voters repealed the merger law allowing their dissolution.

According to small-schools advocates, roughly 160 of the approximately 200 Class I districts want to come back. They predicted that few, if any, would have been able to return under the bill Heineman vetoed.

The bill Heineman vetoed was "not what people had in mind" when they rejected the merger law, Sen. LeRoy Louden of Ellsworth said.

But supporters of the law interpret the repeal vote as a message that there should be an opportunity to form Class I districts.

Sen. Bill Avery of Lincoln pointed out that a petition to keep the law from taking effect before the repeal vote didn't get enough signatures.

"Nebraska is now, like it or not, entirely a K-12 state by lawful action of the Legislature," Avery said, and Class I supporters would be better off with the bill Heineman vetoed than without it.

"The governor, who would like to be viewed as a champion of Class I schools ... is proposing, with this veto, we have no Class I school districts," said Sen. Ron Raikes of Lincoln, architect of both the merger law and the bill discussed Thursday.

Heineman said he wanted lawmakers and others to craft a new plan over the summer and fall that could be considered during the next legislative session. Class I representatives assured him, he said, they would not file any new lawsuits, nor push for automatic restoration of the districts.

He said he has also been assured that Class I supporters would work with lawmakers through the summer and fall to craft another solution.

Several rural senators said that approach is only fair in light of the time given to parties that were embroiled in the dispute over the split-up of Omaha Public Schools approved by the Legislature last year and adjusted this session.

"We gave OPS the benefit of the doubt," said Sen. Philip Erdman of Bayard. "Why on earth don't we recognize we have the opportunity to do this better?"

But Sen. Steve Lathrop of Omaha said he learned that leaders of the effort to restore Class I districts were not interested in compromise.

"There's no middle ground here," Lathrop said. "It's all-or-nothing for them."

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===========================================================================

NATIONAL - NCLB

How to Fix No Child Left Behind
By Claudia Wallis & Sonja Steptoe, Time, 5/24/07
   
It's countdown time in Philadelphia's public schools. Just 21 days remain before the state reading and math tests in March, and the kids and faculty at James G. Blaine Elementary, an all-black, inner-city school that spans pre-K to eighth grade, have been drilling for much of the day. At 2:45 in the afternoon, Rasheed Abdullah, the kinetic lead math teacher, stages what could be called a prep rally with 11 third-graders. The kids, who are at neither the top nor the bottom of their class, have been selected for intensive review--as has a contingent from other grades--because their test scores hold the key to putting the school over the top on the pivotal Pennsylvania System of School Assessments (PSSAS). Last year, after a history of failure, the school, under new leadership, managed to meet the federal goal for adequate yearly progress (AYP) on the state tests for the first time. If it does so again, Blaine moves off the dreaded list of failing schools, no longer a target for intensive oversight and sanctions that could include replacing the staff.

Abdullah, who has an easy rapport with students, issues a quick reminder to sign up for "Super Saturday" review classes and then begins his math-athon with a rousing recitation of the school's declaration of education. "We believe that we can learn at high levels," the children chant. "We believe we can reach our learning potential ... We believe that Blaine will become a high-performing institution."

Quite a mouthful for an 8-year-old. And there's more. Abdullah starts pumping his fists as the kids finish with passionate vows.

"I'll never give up!" he shouts.

"I'll never give up!" they echo.

"Even on the PSSA test!"

"Even on the PSSA test!"

"'
Cause winners never lose, and I am the best!"

For the next 15 minutes, the kids, divided into teams, compete to win points by solving math problems, with Abdullah acting as a combination game-show host and math coach. There are giggles and cheers and plenty of correct answers, but everyone in the room knows the fate of the school is at stake.

To understand the impact of the 2001 Elementary and Secondary Education Act, indelibly rebranded as No Child Left Behind (NCLB), you need to visit a school like Blaine. The astonishingly ambitious law, the Bush Administration's proudest domestic achievement, was crafted with high-poverty, low-achieving schools like this one in mind. NCLB proponents and critics alike agree that the law's greatest accomplishment has been shining an unforgiving spotlight on such languishing schools and demanding that they do better. At Blaine, for instance, only 13% of fifth- and eighth-graders were reading on grade level or above in 2004--a number that has since risen to 36%.

Under the law's most visible stipulation, states must test public school students in reading and math every year from third through eighth grade, plus once in high school, and reveal the results for each school or face a loss of federal funds. Just as critical, schools must break out test results for certain groups: blacks, Hispanics, English-language learners, learning-disabled students. This has embarrassed many a top suburban school where high-flying majorities have masked the low achievement of minorities and special-ed students. The law insists--with consequences for failure--that schools make annual progress toward closing the achievement gap between rich and poor, black and white, and bring all students to grade-level proficiency in math and reading by 2014, ending what the President memorably called "the soft bigotry of low expectations."

Ask almost any school administrator, education policymaker or think-tank wonk about NCLB, and you're guaranteed to get at least one sunny metaphor about how the law opened a window, raised a curtain or otherwise illuminated the plight of the nation's underserved kids. This is NCLB'S biggest achievement and the best reason for Congress to reauthorize the law. "At the end of the day, who can argue with holding schools accountable for all children?" asks Paul Vallas, outgoing chief executive of Philadelphia's schools and incoming head of the New Orleans school district. "Who can argue with not tolerating failing schools or with giving poor kids the kinds of choices that wealthier kids have? It's a civil rights issue."

There's plenty of argument, however, about how the law seeks to achieve these goals. NCLB takes the Federal Government--which contributes only 9¢ of every $1 spent on U.S. schools--where it's never gone before: telling the states how to measure school success, specifying interventions for failure, mandating qualifications for teachers and even telling the nation how to teach reading. This year, as the five-year-old law comes up for debate, an unforgiving spotlight will be focused on its impact thus far, including its numerous unintended consequences. Many teachers are enraged by the law's reliance on high-stakes exams that lead schools like Blaine to focus relentlessly on boosting scores rather than pursuing a broader vision of education. More than 30,000 educators and concerned citizens have signed an online petition calling for the repeal of the 1,100-page statute. Some offer comments like this one from a former superintendent of schools in Ohio: "NCLB is like a Russian novel. That's because it's long, it's complicated, and in the end, everybody gets killed."

Whether NCLB is achieving its objectives remains an open question. Fourth-grade reading scores on the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) rose sharply from 1999 to 2004, but most of the gains occurred before the law took effect. The achievement gap appears to be narrowing in some spots--fourth- and eighth-grade math scores for minorities, for instance--but not others. The gap between white and black eighth-graders has widened slightly in math, for example. Gains for eighth-graders in general remain stubbornly elusive.

Secretary of Education Margaret Spellings, who has been advising the President on education since his days as Texas Governor, notes that the law went into full effect only last year and that more time is needed for it to work. Still, she and the Administration have proposed a large number of adjustments to a law she once compared to Ivory soap, saying "It's 99.9% pure." "We wrote the very best bill we could five years ago," Spellings told TIME, "but we've learned from our experiences." Meanwhile, members of Congress have their own fix-it agendas, as do state education officials and, of course, the teachers unions.

Much of the debate over renewing the law is focused on five areas of controversy:

• AYP on reading and math tests: Is it the right tool for measuring learning and raising achievement in the nation's schools?

• Are the 50 states, each of which devises its own annual tests and curriculum standards, setting the bar high enough for students, and if not, what should be done about it?

• Is the focus on reading and math distorting and narrowing education?

• Do the law's requirements for teacher qualifications make sense, and are they raising the quality of the U.S. teaching force?

• Are the directives aimed at failing schools having the intended impact? What is the right role for the Federal Government in fixing bad schools?

In addition to these policy questions, there's the matter of money. The states have complained bitterly that NCLB imposes its many mandates without the federal funds originally promised to implement them. Providing more money for NCLB is a key goal for the Democrats, who control Congress, and is almost certainly part of their price for reauthorizing the law. A look at some of the more challenging issues:

HOW SHOULD WE MEASURE LEARNING?

The heart and soul of No Child Left Behind are its requirements for annual testing and proof that students of every stripe are making adequate yearly progress. AYP is as basic to U.S. education as ABC, but most thoughtful educators object to the way it's measured. One of the biggest problems: there are too many ways to fail, even when a school is moving in the right direction.

Consider the case of Bud Carson Middle School in Hawthorne, Calif. In 2005 the school, which is 92% Latino and black, pulled out the stops to reverse its failing record and hit 20 out of its 21 AYP goals, lifting scores for blacks, Hispanics and special-ed students; closing achievement gaps; and raising attendance. Nonetheless, the school remained on the "needs improvement" list that year because it narrowly missed the reading-score goal for its English-language learners. (Happily, it made AYP a year later.)

Jack O'Connell, California's superintendent of public instruction, is one of many administrators around the country who find the AYP system too inflexible, too arbitrary and too punitive. Some California schools, he says, have made huge progress, but because they did not make AYP they are required to help students transfer to another school. "So," he laments, "we have to take away resources that we can document are improving achievement and put them into transportation to bus kids to other schools."

In addition, the do-or-die AYP system creates perverse incentives. It rewards schools that focus on kids on the edge of achieving grade-level proficiency--like those 11 students in Blaine's math-review class. There's no incentive for schools to do much of anything for the kids who are on grade level or above, which is one reason the law is unpopular in wealthier, high-achieving communities. And sadly, says O'Connell, "NCLB provides no incentive to work on the kids far below the bar."

Sterling Garris, principal at Blaine, has plenty of such low achievers at his school. As he walked down the hallway on a recent spring day, an elated reading teacher came rushing up to him with a third-grader who, she exclaimed, had jumped four reading levels. Garris offered the boy his hearty congratulations, but later he ruefully noted that the achievement won't be recognized under the terms set by NCLB. "This child has had tremendous growth, but he'll still bomb the PSSA test because he isn't on grade level," says Garris. What's worse, a child who has worked so hard will be stuck with a sense of failure. At test time, says Garris, "some kids get so frustrated they cry."

What's the alternative to AYP? Most educators, Garris included, prefer a more flexible measure of student improvement known as the growth model. In this approach, schools track the progress of each student year to year. Success is defined by a certain amount of growth, even if the student isn't on grade level. So a child like that Blaine third-grader would be judged a success--and his teachers and school would get credit for his achievement. "The growth model," says O'Connell, "is a much more accurate portrayal of a school's performance."

Spellings says she appreciates the need for "a more nuanced accountability system," and her department is testing the growth model in North Carolina, Tennessee, Florida, Arkansas and Delaware. The main sticking point, she says, is having a data-management system that can accurately track the performance of individual students statewide. Another sticking point, she says, is ensuring that growth doesn't replace the goal of moving kids up to grade level. "Growth models have to be within what I call the bright-line principles of the law, which is grade-level proficiency by 2014. Moving the goalposts is not what we are talking about."

CAN WE TRUST THE STATES TO SET STANDARDS?

But moving the goalposts may be inevitable. Decreeing that all kids (except 1% with serious disabilities and an additional 2% with other issues) must be proficient by 2014 is a little like declaring that all the children are above average in the mythical town of Lake Wobegon. California has some of the toughest K-12 curriculum standards in the nation, and O'Connell despairs of hitting the 2014 goal. "Today we don't have any of our schools with 100% student proficiency, and I will predict that we won't by 2014," he says. "Right now about one-quarter of our kids have to be proficient [to make AYP], but soon it's going to be increased 12% a year until 2014. You have to question the accountability system when 100% of your schools are going to be failing, by definition."

There are, however, two surefire ways to hit the 2014 target. One is for schools to cheat on the tests--a frighteningly commonplace solution, according to David Berliner, a respected education scholar at Arizona State University and a co-author of a new book, Collateral Damage, that documents the cheating trend. The other solution is to make the state tests easier, a phenomenon known among educators as "the race to the bottom." Philadelphia's Vallas likes to joke that there are two paths to success for his city's schools: improve instruction for students "or give them the Illinois tests."

Or better yet, Mississippi's. In 2005, 89% of fourth-graders in Mississippi were rated proficient in reading--the highest percentage in the nation. But when Mississippi youngsters sat for the rigorous NAEP--the closest thing to a national gold standard--they landed at the bottom: just 18% of fourth-graders made the grade in reading. States that have a tough curriculum and correspondingly tough exams--such as California and Massachusetts--are delivering a more rigorous education, but they're setting themselves up to fail in NCLB's terms.

No wonder so many states have watered down their expectations. An analysis by researchers at the Thomas B. Fordham Foundation, a Washington-based nonprofit, found that the quality of educational standards--which are detailed, grade-by-grade, subject-by-subject learning goals--declined in 30 states from 2000 to 2006. That includes the four states--Delaware, Kansas, North Carolina and Oklahoma--said to be on track for 2014. Overall, only three states earned an A from Fordham on curriculum standards--which are also the basis for state tests; 37 rated C-- or below.

In European countries, for example, such weak and uneven expectations aren't a problem because most have a uniform national curriculum and national tests. But that approach has been politically unacceptable in the U.S., where schools are largely funded and controlled at the state and local levels. Besides, says Spellings, "do you really want me sitting in Washington working on how we teach evolution or creationism? I don't want to!"

Her department has instead proposed a new requirement that every school, in addition to publishing its results on state tests, provide parents with the statewide scores on NAEP. The idea is that parents would complain if the state falls too far behind the national standard. It's a sensible start, but few experts think it will be enough to ensure high standards in all the nation's schools.

TOO MUCH READING AND MATH?

Sinking state standards are not the only unintended consequence of NCLB. Because the law holds schools accountable only in reading and math, there's growing evidence that schools are giving short shrift to other subjects. In a survey of 300 school districts conducted by the Center on Education Policy, 71% of local administrators admitted that this was the case in their elementary schools. Martin West of Brown University found that, on average, from 1999 to 2004, reading instruction gained 40 min. a week, while social studies and science lost about 17 min. and 23 min, respectively.

But the decline of science and social studies is often much steeper in schools struggling to end a record of failure. At Arizona Desert Elementary in San Luis, Ariz., students spend three hours of their 6 1/2-hr. day on literacy and 90 min. on arithmetic. Science is no longer taught as a stand-alone subject. "We had to find ways to embed it within the content of reading, writing and math," says principal Rafael Sanchez, with some regret. Social studies is handled the same way. The payoff for this laser-like attention to reading and math: the school went from failing in 2004 to making AYP and earning a high-flying "performing plus" designation by the Arizona department of education last year.

But reading about science isn't the same as incubating chick eggs and watching them hatch. And cutting out field trips to Civil War sites and museums to drill social studies vocabulary words is not the way to build a love of history. Hands-on activities are, for many kids, the best part of school, the part that keeps them engaged. The scope of education isn't supposed to be based on what's tested; it's the other way around, says P. David Pearson, dean of the University of California, Berkeley, graduate school of education. "Never send a test out to do a curriculum's job," he says.

FIXING FAILING SCHOOLS

As evidence that NCLB is working, fans of the law love to point to schools that have reversed a long record of failure. Not far from Blaine, in a crime-infested part of town, sits M. Hall Stanton Elementary, everybody's favorite Philadelphia story. In 2002, only 12% of Stanton's fifth-graders were reading at grade level, and the third- and fourth-graders were engaged in what teachers called "gang wars." By 2006, 70% of fifth-graders were proficient readers, and the school was a model of decorum and learning, hitting its AYP goals three years in a row without sacrificing art, music or social studies--an achievement that has earned it national coverage and a visit from Spellings. Today the place pulses with purpose: hallways are bursting with murals, math games and word challenges, as if every square inch of the school were devoted to instruction.

But it's hard to say how much of the transformation can be attributed to NCLB. Much is due to changes made to the curriculum in Philadelphia and even more to Stanton's dynamo principal, Barbara Adderley. Certainly, she is a big fan of testing and accountability. She holds grade-level meetings with teachers in a room with two long assessment walls, which display the latest test results for every student. The walls show, at a glance, who's making progress and who isn't, and if it's the latter, Adderley and her team have a million creative ideas on what to do about it.

No one likes to talk much about the fate of failing schools that continue to founder. Under NCLB, such schools face escalating interventions. If they miss AYP two years in a row, they must offer students a chance to transfer out. After three years, they must provide tutoring services. After five years of failure, the law says the school must be restructured, which means replacing the staff, converting to a charter school, having the state or a private company take the reins or some other intervention.

None of these remedies are working very well. In the 2003-04 school year, only 17% of the 1.4 million students who were eligible for tutoring got assistance. Of the 3.9 million eligible to transfer out of failing schools in 2004-05, only about 1% did so. In many cities there just aren't enough good schools to go around. In the Baltimore school system, for example, says Kate Walsh, president of the National Council on Teacher Quality, "the vast majority aren't schools where anyone who has a choice would want to send their kid."

And no one knows what to do about the 2,000 U.S. schools that have failed to make AYP five years in a row. "Research shows that the path most often chosen is 'other,'" which often means minor tinkering, says Kati Haycock, director of the nonprofit Education Trust. But school districts say the more radical federal options aren't always feasible or affordable. Nor is it clear that turning a school over to the state or making it a charter will raise its performance. "None of these remedies have any basis in reality or research," says Diane Ravitch, research professor of education at New York University.

There is no shortage of ideas for improving No Child Left Behind. Senator Edward Kennedy, who chairs the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, and Congressman George Miller, Kennedy's counterpart in the House, are sorting through a mind-numbing number of proposals to address AYP's shortcomings, lackluster state standards, curriculum narrowing and remedies for failing schools as well as issues concerning the law's requirement for a "qualified teacher" in every classroom and other concerns.


Miller and Kennedy hope to pass a new and improved version of the law by year's end. If that doesn't happen, the current law--with all its flaws--will remain in force, probably until a new Administration tackles the matter.

No one has all the answers to America's challenges in education, but in revising the law, Congress would do well to focus on the things the Federal Government can handle successfully and steer clear of long-distance micromanagement. A few suggestions:

More daylight Maintain the reporting requirements of NCLB but encourage states to provide a fuller picture of school quality than the bare bones of AYP. Congress should offer incentives--carrots, not sticks--for school districts to provide more information to their communities, including high school graduation rates, measures of student growth, participation in gifted and talented programs and achievement in the arts.

One nation, one test Create strong incentives for the states to move away from 50 different standards and 50 different tests and instead converge on NAEP or some other gold standard--perhaps Massachusetts' high-quality exams--as the national assessment. This would stop the states from watering down their standards--one of the most damaging side effect of NCLB and one the nation can't afford in a globally competitive economy. The estimated $600 million a year now spent on state testing programs could be used to improve instruction.

Local solutions Back off from the business of slapping failure labels on schools and imposing remedies. Leave school turnaround to the people who are closer to the students, but fund research into what works.

Better teachers for bad schools Improve federal-funding formulas so that schools in poor neighborhoods have the resources to address their weaknesses and, most especially, could afford to hire experienced teachers. This is the best way to address the achievement gap between rich and poor.

Most important, federal policymakers need to listen hard to the people who are working in the nation's schools every day. It's the only way to ensure that policies that sound great in Washington aren't leaving educational reality behind. [This article contains a complex diagram. Please see hardcopy of magazine.] Early Report Card. The law demands that schools get better, but progress may be in the eye of the beholder

Under the No Child Left Behind Act, schools must show improvement. The goal: to have all students proficient in reading and math by 2014. Math scores are creeping up, but reading scores are flat.

1. SLOW GROWTH OVERALL

Average national test scores, all students '92--'04

4th grade Math Reading

8th grade Math Reading

2. LESS SCIENCE AND HISTORY

Because state assessment tests focus on reading and math, other subjects get squeezed out. A recent study looked at how elementary-school teachers apportion their time each week: Weekly hours of instructional time, Grades 1 through 6

Reading [Up] 40 min. '99--'04

Math [Down] 17 min. '99--'04

Science [Down] 23 min. '99--'04

History [Down] 17 min. '99--'04

3. LOWER STATE STANDARDS

Federal law requires that students be tested annually to determine their reading and math skills but leaves it to each state to devise the exam. The result, critics say, is that some states make their tests easier so it appears that their students are doing well. The evidence: huge gaps between state results and scores on national standardized tests. State test results Percentage of fourth-graders scoring as proficient or better in reading Federal test results Percentage of fourth-graders scoring as proficient or better in reading

By its own count, Mississippi is tied for the best score in the country. But on the U.S. test, the state drops to 50th place—a whopping 71 points lower

On average, 30% of U.S. fourth-graders score as proficient or better on the U.S. exam, called the National Assessment of Educational Progress

The average gap between state and national fourth-grade reading scores is 40 points

Massachusetts students score best on the federal test

Missouri has the smallest scoring gap: 2 points MORE SCORES To see how your state scored in math, visit our interactive map at time.com/nochild Note: State-by-state scores for both tests are for 2005, the latest complete year available. The Washington, D.C., reading score is for fifth-graders. Sources: National Center for Education Statistics; the Education Trust; Testing, Learning and Teaching by Martin West, Brown University

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Iraq's a Disaster, NCLB Not Far Behind
Commentary Gary Moskowitz, Mother Jones, 5/31/07

This week's Time offers up its take on how to fix No Child Left Behind. The piece is a good primer on all-things NCLB; worth a read if, a) You don't know much about it but you're curious, or b) You need a refresher course on where things stand in 2007.

To fix NCLB, Time suggests that schools go beyond basic NCLB and Adequate Yearly Progress jargon when reporting on their school's progress and provide a fuller, more descriptive picture of school quality. Agreed, but guess what? More expansive reporting requirements are costly and give teachers less time and energy for teaching.

The article also suggests stopping the Feds from slapping "failure" labels on schools and investing in more localized remedies. Great idea. Who likes being told they're a loser? Try investing in local, neighborhood organizations that are already in the school trenches but doing so on shoestring budgets. Solid, community relationships are often already in place, so a little bit of cash from D.C. could go a long way.

Mentioned in the piece are David Berliner and Sharon Nichols, authors of Collateral Damage: How High-Stakes Testing Corrupts America's Schools, who say that Bush's NCLB policies are as ineffective as his policies in Iraq. Harsh, maybe, but considering that they found evidence of administrators falsifying test data and forcing low-scoring students out of their schools to avoid public humiliation, maybe they're about right.

Time points out that where Europe has a uniform national curriculum and national tests, state and local jurisdiction is still prominent in the states. In response to state autonomy, U.S. Secretary of Education Margaret Spellings reacted by saying, "Do you really want me sitting in Washington working on how we teach evolution or creationism? I don't want to!"

Umm, no, we probably don't want you meddling in how, and if, for that matter, teachers teach evolution or creationism. You don't have a teaching credential, so that would be against your own rules.

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Standardizing the Standards
Column by Ann Hulbert, New York Times Magazine, 5/27/07

“I know you’re restless today, but I need to see you sitting at your desks. Angel, that means you, too!” In the second-grade classroom at the Washington school where I volunteer, the teacher turned to me and said with a sigh, “It’s testing week.” In fact, her class wasn’t suffering through the standardized ordeal, just tiptoeing around while others did. The “adequate yearly progress” (A.Y.P.) assessments mandated by the No Child Left Behind legislation, which was enacted in 2002 with high hopes of closing the achievement gap for minorities, don’t kick in until third grade. But when it comes to tests, N.C.L.B. is fulfilling its inclusive mission all too well: nobody — not even kids too young to be filling in the bubbles yet — escapes the atmosphere of exam-induced edginess.
 
The president’s signature domestic initiative, now due for its five-year reauthorization, was supposed to be a model of the hardheaded rigor it aims to instill in America’s schools. “No ‘accountability proposals’ without accountability,” a Bush education adviser declared early on. So one of the most glaring legacies of No Child Left Behind is surprising: it has made a muddle of meaningful assessment. Testing has never been more important; inadequate annual progress toward “proficiency” triggers sanctions on schools. Yet testing has never been more suspect, either. The very zeal for accountability is confusing the quest for consistent academic expectations across the country.

In 2014, when states are supposed to report 100 percent pass rates, no governor will be able (honestly) to claim perfect success. But by then, it would be useful at least to agree on what “proficiency” entails. That issue is precisely what is obscured by a blizzard of scores, courtesy of America’s decentralized educational tradition. N.C.L.B. left the states free to choose their own standards and testing methods for determining adequate yearly progress toward proficiency in math and reading. The data therefore defy comparison. In Florida, for example, 71 percent of schools failed to make A.Y.P. in 2006, while only 4 percent did in Wisconsin. More brain-boosting cheese on school lunch menus, perhaps?

Problems don’t end there — just as a social-science principle called Campbell’s law would predict. “The more any quantitative social indicator is used for social decision making,” the social psychologist Donald Campbell concluded in 1975, “the more subject it will be to corruption pressures and the more apt it will be to distort and corrupt the social processes it is intended to monitor.” With “high stakes” testing, N.C.L.B. introduces an incentive not to cheat, necessarily, but to manipulate. Signs are that states define proficiency down while schools ramp up narrow test prep. “Score pollution” — results that reflect intensive coaching — becomes a risk.

And all for what? Not leaps in learning, to judge by an older, federally financed test called the National Assessment of Educational Progress, whose format reflects clear standards for basic subjects and goes beyond multiple-choice questions. Developed by a nonpolitical group of educators, subject-matter specialists and nonexperts, it is administered every two years to a representative sample of students in grades 4, 8 and 12. The purpose of the test, known as “the nation’s report card,” is diagnostic, no strings attached. Its results are sobering. While the states’ tests typically show rising math and reading scores, with roughly 70 percent of students rated proficient or better, the National Assessment reports only about half that proportion scoring so well.

Angel, happy to escape his seat and read a book with me (he chose “Flat Stanley”), would doubtless be thrilled if test week disappeared. It won’t. But the test mess could be what is called in the trade a teachable moment, a chance to consider the case for national standards and a single national exam. There’s nothing like a blend of confusion and coercion at the state level to make the prospect of credible countrywide assessments — based on coherent expectations of what students should know — look less like creeping federal intrusion and more like welcome clarity.

Where ideological clashes doomed a quest for national standards in the 1990s, pragmatic calculations might tip the balance in favor now. Let the federal government pay for a national test and the formulation of standards, suggests Diane Ravitch, a clear-eyed historian of school reforms who was an assistant secretary of education during George H.W. Bush’s administration. The move could save the states the estimated half-billion dollars they spend on their own testing programs — and, Ravitch notes, give the U.S. government a job it is good at: gathering and spreading information about how states are faring.

The National Assessment of Educational Progress could serve as a model for a test that judges students’ ability to apply their knowledge and thus discourages rote coaching. But recent experience — and Campbell’s law — argues against making test results the sole trigger of federal sanctions. Instead, the data would give states and school districts reliable information on where progress is, and isn’t, happening across the country, to catalyze their own strategies to boost achievement. Rather than cramming to reach an unrealistic target by 2014, states could be more like the laboratories of curricular improvement the country needs. Agreeing on common goals for what kids should be learning can free up teachers to focus more productively on how they could be learning better.

School transformation can’t be engineered by any test, which is a two-dimensional tool at best. Still, a good national exam would spread well-focused standards across state borders and spur progress. Reading Angel’s book to him, I saw an apt metaphor: poor Stanley wakes up to find himself flattened, a boy become a board, but the discovery that he can slip into an envelope and travel around the country expands his horizons.
 
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The real teachers share their hearts, not just their knowledge
Letter by Becky Ricklefs of Ida Grove, Des Moines Register, 5/27/07

In 1976, I had been teaching high school for six years and my sister, Jacque, had been teaching for five years at a small elementary school in Gray, Ia., part of the Audubon school district. In May, the Gray teachers took the students to Littlefield Park on an annual overnight camping trip. My sister, who was an epileptic, returned from that trip, laid down to rest and never woke up. She apparently had an epileptic seizure while sleeping and her lungs filled with fluid. My mother, father, twin sisters and I were obviously heartbroken. But what warmed our hearts and made our days more bearable were the cards we received from Jacque's fifth-grade students.

On school days, teachers spend more time with children than their parents do, so it is imperative for the children to feel that the teacher likes being with them and enjoys being part of their lives, similar to the way they feel with their parents.

Teachers are not required to play with their students; they are only required to teach them. But the love of a teacher who plays with her students is irreplaceable. The camping trip was a large part of that playful connection between teachers and students at Gray, and is one of many examples of the time, talents, energy and finances teachers share in order to give their students experiences the children remember for the rest of their lives.

The most touching card came from one of the boys in Jacque's class. He told us that he loved Jacque because of the way she handled her classroom, gave them memorable experiences beyond the classroom and shared her life with them. He also sent a message for us to share with Jacque in heaven.

Schools all around the country are testing students to make sure they meet the standards set by the No Child Left Behind Act. In order to make sure students become good test-takers and are well versed in the material the test will include, many teachers may have to forgo activities and experiences in the classroom that they previously utilized.

But what does it really mean to leave no child behind?

Teachers will tell you that it means you care for your students so much that you give your heart to them. You spend your days and nights trying to figure out the best way to teach them, how to make their classroom experience worthwhile and happy and how to enrich their lives beyond preparing them for a test.

In the hectic days of trying to meet the standards set by NCLB, let's hope teachers do not lose what made them become teachers in the first place.
 
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Test-takers, not students
Test madness and centralized curriculum control squeeze creativity out of the classroom.
Opinion by Janet Ewell, a high school teacher, Los Angeles Times, 5/26/07
 
It is popular to blame the federal No Child Left Behind Act for California's educational woes, but our misery is largely homegrown and predates the 2001 law.
 
A friend who teaches at a prestigious suburban school recently told me that she was on leave and didn't think she was going back. "I can't stand giving kindergartners timed standards tests and watching tears trickle down their cheeks," she said. "It's just not right."
 
I know how she feels. This fall, we were at first forbidden to teach novels — any novels — in the college preparatory English classes at our high school. We must teach from the textbook because "the Holt textbook is aligned to the California content standards," the principal said. No "Adventures of Huckleberry Finn." No "To Kill a Mockingbird."
 
The good news is the administration at my award-winning urban district relented and is allowing us to teach one novel, now that we are done with 18 hours of California Standards Tests.
 
The bad news is the district tells us we can do so only if we use the novel to "reinforce content standards" and not "teach it cover to cover," and the novel must "not supplant Holt's minimum course of study."
 
The district allows me seven hours to teach "To Kill a Mockingbird" to my students, a third of whom are English learners and two-thirds of whom qualify for free or reduced-price lunches.
 
The even worse news: The administrators are eliminating "sustained silent reading." That's the 15 minutes a day when all students stop everything and read. By eliminating it, we gain "over two minutes of instructional time aligned to the standards in each period each day" so we can "improve student achievement," the principal tells us.
 
"Improve student achievement" means "get better scores" on high-stakes standardized tests. "Aligned to the California content standards" means teaching to the tests — in my case, a food chain of tests to prepare students for other tests, almost all multiple choice. Easily 10% of my students' classroom time is spent taking these tests.
 
In a crescendo of circular logic, "high-achieving schools" have become those whose students are successful test-takers, without asking if they are prepared for work, for college, for citizenship or for a meaningful life.
 
The National Center on Education and the Economy reports that we lack workers who are "creative and innovative, self-disciplined and well-organized." Colleges complain that freshmen cannot think critically or write lucidly. As the center points out, "What gets measured is what gets taught."
 
In the 1990s, the core content standards were adopted and the state Public School Accountability Act was passed. That law mandates the tests that rate the schools; it also threatens sanctions against schools in which students "under-perform."
 
The 2001 No Child Left Behind Act requires states to choose tests to demonstrate their educational progress. Thirty-five states chose tests that include writing and open-ended questions, which do more to encourage literacy and critical thinking than filling in bubbles on a Scantron form. California chose to use its existing tests.
 
Hardest hit by California's rules are schools that teach students who are poor or transient or who are learning English. These schools, fearing state and federal sanctions, concentrate on language arts and math. "Under-performing" students at my school may have two periods each of English and math, with no time for band, athletics, auto shop, languages or any other subject not tested each spring.
 
Educational standards and accountability are important, but most educators agree California's standards are not perfect. But neither your local school board nor the Legislature can change them. The Academics Standards Commission no longer exists. The state Department of Education has no plans for revision. The standards are out of reach of any democratic process.
 
They got one thing right though — the name: content standards. As long as progress is primarily measured through multiple-choice tests, to educate will mean to teach content, and teaching content will squeeze the development of innovative, well-read and organized humans, especially among poor and immigrant children.
 
If the state and federal governments want to compare schools, testing a sampling of students can be as accurate as testing every child — without taking up to 18 hours out of the life of every student.
 
If our goal remains to gauge the individual student's progress, we should use the multiple measures advocated by the National Education Assn. and the National Council of Teachers of English, including open-ended or short-answer tests and portfolios that demonstrate the students' reading, writing, abstract thinking, problem-solving and organizational skills.
 
For our children and our future, we must reestablish democratic control over the standards, revise them to be educational — not merely content — standards and track progress through meaningful multiple measures.

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'No Child Left Behind' fails children
Opinion by Rosemary Rivera, local organizer for the Alliance for Quality Education, Rochester Democrat & Chronicle, 5/30/07

As a Rochester parent, the more I learn about the No Child Left Behind Act, the more I realize that it has caused more damage to our children than good.

NCLB has four main goals that include academic accountability, flexibility, choices for parents in high-needs districts and "scientific" teaching methods.

Certainly, I want to know how my children are progressing. However, I cannot hold my daughters to the same yardstick as other children. Besides, why would I want to compare my child with a child who comes from a wealthier home, with much more educated parents, and with the means and time to concentrate on promoting their children's education?

Furthermore, I have an issue with the tests given to my children.

First, what is the return on our investment? According to the American Association of Publishers, sales of standardized tests tripled to nearly $600 million since NCLB was enacted in 2002. In 2000, faulty test results resulted in the need for thousands of students in New York state to attend summer school. And, of course, although I want my child to be accustomed to taking a test, I don't want that to be the focus of her education.

It reminds me of statistics class. I could pass statistic tests with flying colors, but I truly did not comprehend the theories behind the problems. Therefore, statistics is a foreign language to me, but my college transcript says I have an "A" in the class. Besides, I want to know who compiles the material that deems my child "proficient," and how well they understand my children's abilities.

Thus far, there has been little accountability for test results. According to the National Conference of State Legislators, by the year 2010, an estimated 70 percent of schools will be labeled as failing.

At this point, I also have no clue about the choices available to parents in high-needs districts. No one has offered me any meaningful choices. As for the goal of "scientific" teaching methods, does that refer to super-sized, one-size-fits-all educational programs, such as America's Choice, that take away the ability of a teacher, who works with my child daily, to make valid decisions on how best to teach my child?

I am a Hispanic woman without a college degree, with African-American children who are part of the working class. My daughter who just graduated from high school was supposed to have benefited from NCLB; instead, in several ways, she was left behind, and although now in college, lacks many vital academic skills. I see NCLB as another hurdle that our poor and minority children are forced to overcome under the guise of better education.
 
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How Nebraska Leaves No Child Behind
By Sonja Steptoe, Time, 5/30/07 

Most state education officials grumble that the pressure-packed annual tests and rigid adequate yearly progress (AYP) targets engendered by the federal No Child Left Behind (NCLB) law are flawed means of measuring student proficiency, raising academic standards, holding schools accountable and fostering learning. But since the penalty for defying the law is loss of federal funds, most treat NCLB's prescriptives like bitter medicine they can't afford to spit out. All, that is, except the iconoclasts who run the public schools in Nebraska.

Eschewing the Washington-created remedy, they have developed a homemade model called the School-based Teacher-led Assessment Reporting System (STARS) that has yielded impressive results, been praised by education scholars and attracted interest from Edward Kennedy, NCLB's Senate custodian. "We just told the Department of Education that if they were really trying to [serve] all kids and close the proficiency gap that high-stakes testing isn't the way to do it," says Doug Christensen, state commissioner of education. "We told them we would show them that we had a better way."

Under Nebraska's model, the state sets curriculum standards, but gives teachers free reign on instruction and lets local school districts design their own tests to measure how well students are meeting the grade-level norms. And unlike the vast majority of states, which rely solely on multiple choice exams to measure student achievement and determine yearly progress, Nebraska's students also write essays as part of a unique statewide writing exam. Districts can also include student oral presentations, demonstrations and projects in their battery of assessments. Christensen says the writing requirement gives state officials confidence that the multiple choice test scores are a true reflection of actual learning. Since the system was installed eight years ago, he says, the statewide writing scores on average have lined up "almost perfectly" with results on both math and reading proficiency tests. "Ours is a bottom-up model," Christensen says. "It begins in the classroom with instruction that's aligned to our standards and extends to assessments developed locally that are tied to how well students apply concepts and problem solve, rather than simply memorize facts and figures and dates that they can't remember 10 minutes later."

Overall last year, just over 87% of all elementary students met federal accountability goals in reading, tying Nebraska with Mississippi for the best scores in the country in that subject area. In math, more than 87% of Nebraska primary schoolkids reached their federal goals. Only the subgroup of special education students narrowly missed the targets in reading and math. Among middle schoolers, almost 87% passed in reading and nearly 85% did in math. Special education students and English language learners were the only subgroups in those grades scoring below the federal bar.

For Nebraska officials, high doses of local input and low regard for memorization skills are points of distinction, and pride. And the consistently high scores their students receive reassure them that — despite results on national reading assessments of fourth graders in 2005 that were more than 50 points lower than state-test-score levels, for instance — they are indeed proficient in reading, math and writing.

Adding to their confidence is the fact that the bosses in Lincoln exercise quality control over the testing protocols. Each year the state hires a panel of out-of-state experts to grade each district's assessment plan to insure that it matches the state curriculum standards, reliably measures proficiency and meets other technical criteria. Additionally, teams of in-state teachers and principals interview district officials as part of a peer review of their test-making methods. "What we've got that no one else has is a cadre of teachers in the state who are as assessment literate as any educators on the face of the earth," Christensen says. "They know how to teach to an outcome, to measure the outcome with high technical quality, and they know how to use that information to improve instruction."

The Nebraska model has been praised by the National Council of Measurement in Education, the National Center for Fair and Open Testing and education testing researchers at Duquesne University. Sen. Edward Kennedy met with state officials earlier this month as part of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee's deliberations on revisions to NCLB and was impressed by the results they've achieved, his staff says. And now that the state has added on-site peer reviews to the annual evaluation process, Christensen says the ultimate deciders at the federal Department of Education have assured him that STARS passes NCLB muster. "Nebraska is a place where the concepts of family and community still work," Christensen says. "Our public schools are embedded in those communities and those families. So why wouldn't we first trust those folks? We believe you create the capacity at the local level to do the right thing in the first place, and then you don't need the state or federal government looking over your shoulder."
 
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"No Child Left Behind": State Tests Vary
Education Law Has Different Standards for Different States
Kelly Wallace, CBS News Correspondent, 5/30/07

As much as I've heard and read about "No Child Left Behind" (NCLB) — the landmark education bill President Bush signed into law five years ago, I had no idea that every state uses a different test and standard to determine whether its schools are making the required progress under the law.

It is an issue, we learned, that is debated sharply in education circles — with some states accusing others of lowering the bar by using easier tests and lower standards to make their schools look more successful.

Why would they do this? Well, the stakes couldn't be higher. A school that is identified as not meeting NCLB targets — the requirement is 100 percent proficiency in reading and math by 2014 — could face sanctions or ultimately be shut down.

What we learned is that, like most subjects, this topic can't be broken down into right and wrong or black and white. It's much more complicated than that — and states, at least the ones we visited, appear to be trying to do the right thing, which is give their kids the best education they possibly can.

Consider the places we traveled: Georgia and neighboring South Carolina. The two states have nearly identical scores on a national reading test for fourth graders (around 26 percent proficiency) but dramatically different results on their state tests. South Carolina's fourth-graders had a 36 percent proficiency rating in reading, while Georgia's was 87 percent.

Does this mean kids are reading that much better in Georgia than in South Carolina?

No, says Jim Ray, a school superintendent in Spartanburg, S.C., who says his state's standards are tougher than Georgia's. The answer, he says, isn't for South Carolina to lower its standards but for the federal government to come up with uniform standards so all states can be judged equally.

"If you are not going to mandate a common playing field and a common measuring stick, then you don't really have any teeth in this system, except that you are going to punish the ones, ironically, that were trying to do the right thing," he told CBS News.

Off we went to Georgia to ask the tough questions. How could state educators explain how fourth graders had an 87 percent proficiency rating on the state reading test and a 26 percent proficiency rating on the national test given to a sample of students in each state — a gap of 61 points?

Kathy Cox, Georgia's Superintendent of Education, says part of the gap is because her state has a wider definition of proficiency than the National Assessment of Educational Progress exam. Educators use state results to determine whether kids should be promoted to a higher grade, she said.
"For a state test that is high-stakes, particularly when third- and fifth-grade promotion retention decisions are based on your definition, you have to have a wider range of your proficiency levels," Cox said. “But there's still a gap, and that's an issue we've been dealing with in terms of rigor."

Cox says, in response to the gap, she’s rolling out a new curriculum and toughening standards for proficiency. "We don't want this gap, we think we are doing a good job of educating kids in Georgia and we're not satisfied at all."

Congress is considering making changes to the law, while the Department of Education is expected to issue a report in the near future comparing how states do on their tests with results on that national exam.

Will any real changes be made? Could Congress mandate that every state use the same standard — or maybe call for a national test which would be given to all students around the country? It's hard to say. About the only thing we know for sure is this topic generates intense passions and very different opinions.

Ultimately though, it comes down to this: Are kids getting the best education possible? The educators we met, while they have very different points of view, seem intent on making sure the answer to that question is "yes."
 
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Time to foster innovation
Commentary by Paul Kimmelman, a senior advisor at Learning Point Associates in Chicago, Philadelphia Inquirer, 5/31/07

The parade of witnesses testifying at Education Committee hearings in the House and Senate on the reauthorization of the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB) is a red flag, warning that Congress may be lulling itself into the belief that simply tweaking NCLB will raise the quality of U.S. schools.

This false sense of security means that the real direction in which we must take schools - beyond compliance and toward innovation for a 21st-century education system - is being ignored. The next frontier for Americans' lives and livelihoods in the knowledge economy is a world-class education system that truly works for all students.

Don't get me wrong: NCLB, as written, has its virtues. Chief among them is that it put teeth into school reform. Over the years, business leaders had convened summits, academics had written white papers, and policy makers had advocated for school reform. Although these groups were well-intentioned, it still took the passage of NCLB, a federal law, to make schools accountable for results.

Congress now has an opportunity to reauthorize NCLB as a policy that supports innovation and responds to the urgency felt across the country to keep the United States an economic force in the world. When it passed NCLB in 2001, Congress accomplished its most important goal by creating a culture change within the education profession. Consider that Education Secretary Margaret Spellings announced recently to a gathering of education writers that 70 percent of the nation's schools were in compliance with NCLB standards. This gives me confidence that many educators are ready for the next step - moving schools beyond a compliance mentality and toward innovation.

Stimulating the education sector to innovate will not be easy, but nothing will contribute more to our nation's vitality. We can start with a few simple steps:

Invest in research and development to improve practices in math and science education that emphasize discovery and problem solving.

Invite more collaboration among business, academia, research organizations and education leaders to stimulate new approaches to vexing challenges, not the least of which is the need to harness new technologies.

Offer merit-based grants to states that develop winning approaches to teacher preparation, instructional methods and public/private partnerships to disseminate their know-how across the profession.

Education is never short on challenges, but NCLB has led to real changes in the way schools are approaching them. The experts testifying before Congress should be focusing on a federal policy that encourages innovation. Think of this parallel: After Congress imposed higher gas-mileage requirements on the auto industry, several automakers responded with revolutionary hybrid vehicles.

The new NCLB must address how schools will strive toward excellence, not simply meet the minimum requirements of the law. Hours spent tweaking the mandates of NCLB will not yield a more competitive workforce. What will is developing a forward-looking agenda to prepare our children for the world they will inherit.

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Our view on education reform: How to fix 'No Child' law
Act’s sanctions, aid should be targeted at most-troubled schools
USA Today Editorial, 5/31/07

In Florida last year, only 29% of schools made "adequate yearly progress" under the federal No Child Left Behind law. Can Florida schools really be that bad?
 
Most likely not. The problems at more than half of the lagging schools are probably easily fixed. And yet those schools get lumped together with seriously failing ones.
 
That guilt-by-association is a serious problem for the No Child law, which took effect in 2002 and badly needs friends as Congress decides whether to renew President Bush's signature education reform.
 
Many Democrats hate the law because teachers' unions hate it. Many Republicans dislike it because they don't want the federal government meddling in local schools. Teachers and parents dislike the testing, which is designed to ensure that all students are learning.
 
All the opposition is unfortunate, because already the law has helped thousands of poor and minority students whose teachers and principals are now held accountable for their education. In years past, these students were allowed to slide through school until they either dropped out or "graduated" with marginal skills.
 
Fixing the law's flaws requires narrowing its focus to:

    Snag fewer schools.  Nationally, about 20% of all schools run afoul of the law's accountability measures by failing to make adequate progress two years in a row. Many education experts estimate that less than half of those schools are truly troubled.


The rest are schools with manageable problems. Appomattox Elementary School in Appomattox County, Va., for example, always did well with its white students, who make up 68% of the school population, but fell into trouble in 2004 when black and poor students failed to make adequate progress. Teachers scrambled, and not only did the school get off the troubled list, but two weeks ago it won a state "distinguished school" award.
 
The Education Trust, which lobbies on behalf of poor schools, has a worthy idea: Designate schools such as Appomattox as needing "focused" reforms and require the worst schools to undergo "comprehensive" reform.
 
    Concentrate the assistance.  In theory, schools with long track records of failure face radical restructuring, but most of those schools merely tinker with cosmetic reforms.
 
Solving this requires state officials to sort out which of the failing schools are in the deepest trouble and work first with them. For their part, Washington officials have to squeeze more school rescue money out of Congress, which to date has chipped in a relative pittance to a school turnaround fund.
 
The foes of No Child Left Behind miss one important fact: For many students, this is their last, best chance to get a decent education. That's why Education Secretary Margaret Spellings and congressional backers need to act quickly to boost the law's effectiveness before its many enemies kill it off.
 
Poor progress

States with the highest number of "chronically troubled" schools under the No Child Left Behind law:
 
1. California (357)
 
2. New York (166)
 
3.
Illinois (138)
 
4.
Pennsylvania (63)
 
5.
Hawaii (50)
 
Source: U.S. Department of Education

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Opposing view: 'Too destructive to salvage'
Law overemphasizes standardized testing, doesn’t improve learning
Opinion by Alfie Kohn, USA Today, 5/31/07

It's time to say in a national newspaper what millions of teachers, students and parents already know: No Child Left Behind (NCLB) is an appalling and unredeemable experiment that has done incalculable damage to our schools — particularly those serving poor, minority and limited-English-proficiency students.

It's a stretch even to call the law "well-intentioned" given that its creators, including the Bush administration and the right-wing Heritage Foundation, want to privatize public education. Hence NCLB's merciless testing, absurd timetables and reliance on threats.

Let's be clear: This law has nothing to do with improving learning. At best, it's about raising scores on multiple-choice exams. This law is not about discovering which schools need help; we already know. This law is not about narrowing the achievement gap; its main effect has been to sentence poor children to an endless regimen of test-preparation drills. Thus, even if the scores do rise, it's at the expense of a quality education. Affluent schools are better able to maintain good teaching — and retain good teachers — despite NCLB, so the gap widens.

Sure, it's senseless for Washington to impose requirements without adequate funding. But more money to implement a bad law isn't the answer.

Indeed, according to a recent 50-state survey by Teachers Network, a non-profit education organization, exactly 3% of teachers think NCLB helps them to teach more effectively. No wonder 129 education and civil rights organizations have endorsed a letter to Congress deploring the law's overemphasis on standardized testing and punitive sanctions. No wonder 30,000 people (so far) have signed a petition at educatorroundtable.org calling the law "too destructive to salvage."

NCLB didn't invent the scourge of high-stakes testing, nor is it responsible for the egregious disparity between the education received by America's haves and have-nots. But by intensifying the former, it exacerbates the latter.

This law cannot be fixed by sanding its rough edges. It must be replaced with a policy that honors local autonomy, employs better assessments, addresses the root causes of inequity and supports a rich curriculum. The question isn't how to save NCLB; it's how to save our schools — and kids — from NCLB.
  
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Leaving behind No Child Left Behind
High School teacher says dismantling controversial law requires community effort
Commentary by CHIP FRASER, a Ventura, CA high school teacher, Ventura County Reporter, 5/31/07

As the character Peter Finch played in the classic movie Network said,"I am Mad as hell, and I'm not going to take it anymore"

I have the same sentiments over the ongoing No child Left Behind (NCLB), aka No child Left, aka No Teacher Left Teaching, and of course, the Voucher Set-Up Act.

As a result, I am pledging to do what I can to delete this offensive law from our consciousness and get back to a gentler, more sensible classroom environment.

I am talking about building support in our educational ranks to usher in programs that build self-esteem, create options for our children, expose them to the arts and valuable vocational and training opportunities, and of course teach reading, writing, 'rithmatic, respect, responsibility, and reason. No, it won’t happen overnight, but there are enough people expressing dissatisfaction that we will see a change, particularly in the punitive nature, very soon.

However, doctoring the law won’t fix it. We need to be vigilant and demonstrative. That is why I ask you to send letters to Senators Diane Feinstein and Barbara Boxer, our congressional representatives, Elton Gallegly and Lois Capps, Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, Representative George Miller (D-San Francisco), Representative Henry Waxman (D-Los Angeles), Senator Ted Kennedy (D-Mass.), Senator Harry Reid (D-Nevada), National Education Association Executive Director Reg Weaver and David Sanchez, the incoming president of the California Teachers Association. And it wouldn’t hurt to send letters to the editors of local media outlets.

It is my hope that we will whittle this non-working and threatening act into a sensible and positive outcome, but we must stay aware of what it has done. It has created an air of anxiety and fear in the educational environment. No one doubts the original intention, but good intentions in the hands of people with alternative agendas do sour – and NCLB has failed despite what some people might think.

In my study of this obtrusive program — which was camouflaged by a kindly name — I have created many "talking points," some of which may resonate with you.

We must look long and hard at our obsession with tests and what kind of outcome we wish to have. Do we want bright, energetic and empowered youth who learn for learning's sake, or would we prefer our students dulled by a machine that stresses tests, tests, tests? Do we want our children to want to come to school, realizing it for what it is, a place not only to learn the standards, but to learn about life?

We become lost in that maze of either/or and it doesn't have to be that way. We can be balanced and have the best of both worlds with true accountability.

What I'm talking about is accountability from everyone — teachers, administrators, parents, business people, politicians and our children. It is our responsibility to provide the safest and most expressive community that we can!

Each of us must do our part if we are to get this crisis in check. We need to pay attention to what our businesses are telling us: that our children aren't ready. We need programs that get our next generation ready for that leap into adulthood.

The barbarians are at the gate and we must stand together if we are to repel them!
  
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Majority would like 'no child' law left behind
Thomas Hargrove, reporter for Scripps Howard News Service and Guido H. Stempel III, director of the Scripps Survey Research Center
 
Nearly two-thirds of American adults want Congress to re-write or outright abolish the landmark No Child Left Behind Act that mandates nationwide testing of elementary students to determine if public schools are performing adequately.
 
Opposition is especially high among people most familiar with the law, according to a survey of 1,010 adults conducted by Scripps Howard News Service and Ohio University.
 
Controversy about the law has grown in recent months as Congress begins the debate on whether to reauthorize the measure that President Bush has touted is one of the most important achievements of his administration.
 
"The No Child Left Behind Act has worked for America's children and I ask Congress to reauthorize this good law," Bush urged legislators during his last State of the Union address.
 
But dissent against reauthorization has developed within his own party. Fifty-two Republican House members and five GOP senators are calling for a repeal of the law in favor of a more flexible system of achievement standards to be negotiated between the Department of Education and individual states.
 
"This expensive and largely unsuccessful legislation has broadened the scope of the federal government's role in education," Rep. Tim Walberg, R-Mich., said while introducing his bill.
 
Participants in the poll were told that No Child Left Behind "requires states to test elementary students to determine if schools do a good job teaching. Critics say the law forces teachers to teach to a particular test. From everything you've heard, do you think the No Child Left Behind Act has been good for public schools or not good?"
 
Only about a third said they think the law has had a positive influence on public education while slightly less than half said it has had a negative impact and a fifth were undecided.
 
A few respondents volunteered different answers that were generally critical of the law.
 
"The schools should have more leeway," said the mother of two public school children from Lexington, S.C.
 
"It was a good theory, but the implementation has been faulty," remarked another mother with three children from Elmhurst, N.Y.
 
"No Child Left Behind created unfunded mandates which force teachers to teach to the test," complained a single woman from Tonopah, Nev.
 
"States should have more control over their education programs," said a mother from Houston, Texas.
 
Respondents in the poll were also asked: "Based upon everything you've heard, do you want Congress to renew the No Child Left Behind law, do you want Congress to make changes in the law or do you want Congress to cancel the No Child Left Behind law?"
 
Twenty-three percent said they want the law renewed in its current form, 14 percent want it abolished and 49 percent want it amended. Fourteen percent were undecided. Taken together, 63 percent want the law abolished or amended.
 
About three-quarters of people who said they are "very familiar" with the law also say they want it altered or abolished, compared to less than half of people who say they are "not familiar" with the measure.
 
Well-educated people, especially college graduates and those who've attended post-graduate schooling, are especially likely to call for changes to the law. People who have public school children at home are somewhat more likely to want the law altered or abolished than are people who don't currently have children in school.
 
Although much of the criticism in Congress against the current form of the law is coming from Republicans, the poll found that Democrats in the general public were more likely to want changes in the law than were Republicans.
 
The survey was conducted by telephone from May 6-27 among 1,010 adult residents of the United States who were selected at random. The survey was conducted by the Scripps Survey Research Center at Ohio University under a grant from the Scripps Howard Foundation.
 
The survey has a margin of error of about 3 percent, although the margin is somewhat higher when estimating support for the No Child Left Behind Act among different subgroups.
 
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With No Child Left Behind, Familiarity Breeds Contempt
Commentary by Gerald Bracey, The Huffington Post, 5/31/07

I have heard repeatedly that the closer you are to the impact of No Child Left Behind, the less you like it. Now it turns out that the more you know about the law the less you like it.

In a survey from Scripps Survey Research Center, 23% of respondents said they wanted the law renewed in its current form, 14% want it abolished and 49% want it amended. Among those who said they were very familiar with the law, three quarters want it amended or abolished.

Well-educated people and people with children in schools are more likely to want to do away with the law.

In a compendium of messages from teachers, those closest to the law besides the kids themselves, you find statements like this:

- Professionally, NCLB has been devastating to the teaching staff in my school. Experienced teachers are opting to retire in larger numbers. They are choosing to leave the profession rather than teach in a manner that they have found, through decades of experience, is detrimental to student learning.

This is from NCLB/ESEA: It's Time for a Change. (NCLB is formally known as ESEA, the Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965, of which the version from 2001 is the latest incarnation).

It should be kept in mind that this compilation represents only several hundred of over 2,000,000 people -- it was assembled by the NEA, an organization that initially lacked the guts to oppose NCLB but which has gotten more negative about it over the years (in October 1991, a meeting of education organizations was held to determine what position to take on NCLB. Most organizations, including the NEA, said that they would not support it but they would not actively oppose it. Only the American Association of School Administrators took an actively negative stance -- and paid for it in retribution from the Bushies). Still, each of the letters carries a name and a school district -- it's not a collection of anonymous gripes.

The May 31 edition of USA Today features a limp editorial which claims that "already the law has helped thousands of poor and minority students..." It provides no evidence for this claim. It calls for a couple of minor changes -- snag fewer schools and concentrate the assistance on those schools with long histories of trouble. The editorial totally overlooks most NCLB trouble spots.

Alfie Kohn's scathing rejoinder begins, "It's time to say in a national newspaper what millions of teachers, students and parents already know: NCLB is an appalling and unredeemable experiment that has done incalculable damage to our schools--particularly those serving poor, minority, and limited-English-proficiency kids."

I'm with Alfie. Those poor and minority kids are spending hours getting drilled on low level reading and math skills. Affluent and middle class kids are getting more enriched reading and math classes and social studies and science as well. In other words, they're getting an education. In the larger sense, the achievement gap is growing, not narrowing.

Alfie closes with "The law cannot be fixed by sanding its rough edges. It must be replaced with a policy that honors local autonomy, employs better assessments, addresses the root causes of inequity and supports a rich curriculum. The question isn't how to save NCLB; it's how to save our schools -- and kids -- from NCLB."

Sooner or later, critics of NCLB have to deal with the question "How do you account for strong support for the law from liberals like Kennedy and Miller?" In the past, I've argued that Kennedy was playing expedient politics to get the extra money (much of which Bush did not deliver). It seems Kennedy was satisfied when he blocked the original legislation's voucher provisions and substituted Supplemental Educational Services (which only wastefully sends a couple of billion dollars to the private sector each year--with no accountability). I couldn't explain Miller except that he's from California which has almost the lowest test scores in the country.

Now maybe there's a better explanation. Doublethink. A manuscript sent to me for review summarizes Orwell's concept this way: the simultaneous acceptance of two contradictory statements as true:

- There are critics today who claim that the designers and advocates of NCLB intend to weaken the public schools and, thus, pave the way for privatization. There are even those who suspect that the intention -- far from leaving no child behind -- is to leave many children behind, thus ensuring a cadre of poorly educated people to staff the booming service industry. They may be right. But we need not attribute questionable motives to the people promoting NCLB. The language itself dissembles and those supporting it may be guilty only of doublethink--believing that children are being helped when much evidence and clear logic suggests they are being hurt.
 
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