ISBE Banner
State of Illinois - Governor Blagojevich 

News Clips

News Clips – October 20-26, 2007

TOP OF PAGE

STATE  
25 Illinois teachers in five years disciplined / State Journal-Register (also Chicago Sun-Times, St. Louis Post-Dispacth, Pantagraph, Peoria Journal Star, Rockford Register Star)
Teens go online to protest 'moment of silence' law / Daily Herald
The `silence' mandate: One state senator fights back / Chicago Tribune
Recruitment a rarity in high school / Beacon News
Suburban farms going, but ag education's staying / Daily Herald
State Sen. Radogno attacks education myth in Darien / Suburban Life
District 204 teachers get rewarded for beating heat / Daily Herald
Substitute Shortage / WCIA-TV/Champaign
TB case hasn't fueled scare at high school / Daily Herald
New state laws aim to boost school bus safety / Champaign News-Gazette
School silence law kicks up a big fuss / Chicago Tribune
Education Funding Hold-Up / WSIL-TV, Carbondale
District investigates whether sex offender went on school field trips / Rockford Register Star
Staph invades multiple schools / Associated Press

NATIONAL
Sexual misconduct troubles U.S. schools / State Journal-Register
Family, town scarred by teacher’s sexual abuse / State Journal-Register
Gaps remain in laws protecting students / State Journal-Register
Health survey: Schools are shaping up / New York Times
In Consolidating Districts, States Run Tricky Course To Secure Local Support / Education Week
On the road for excellence / Seattle Times
4 shot at middle school football game / Pantagraph

NATIONAL - NCLB
Schools chief unhappy with federal standards / Casa Grande Valley Dispatch (AZ)
Why do we put up with AYP and NCLB? / Silver Chips Online
                (Montgomery Blair High School's Online Student Newspaper/MD)
The advocate of teaching over testing / Boston Globe
Does a Lack of Political Will Make NCLB's "100/2014" Impossible? / Education Week
School superintendent Weast wants to leave NCLB behind / Medill Reports (DC)

TOP OF PAGE

STATE

25 Illinois teachers in five years disciplined
By Megan Reichgott, AP, 10/21/07
 
CHICAGO — Michael Young met a 14-year-old girl on a telephone chat line and took her to an Indiana motel to have sex.

Steven Wenger used the Internet to arrange sex with a boy, but it turned out the “child” he’d had explicit online conversations with was actually a Chicago police officer.

Gerald Huddleston blindfolded three Livingston County girls, all younger than 12, and forced them into performing oral sex.

All were Illinois teachers when they committed the crimes, authorities said.

They are just three of at least 25 former Illinois educators whose teaching licenses were revoked or suspended due to sexual misconduct over a five-year period. The list, compiled from 2001 to 2005, reveals a litany of loathsome acts ranging from sexual assault to child pornography, according to the Illinois State Board of Education.

“In any profession you’ve got a minority, a small portion, a bad apple that causes problems for everyone,” said Rep. Dan Brady, a Bloomington Republican who sponsored a law that goes into effect in June requiring police to tell a school superintendent if an employee is suspected in a sex crime. Before, districts could request police records if an employee was investigated, but in the future authorities will be obligated to tell schools of an arrest.

“It’s always that there was some loophole, some this or that, that’s how they were able to continue doing what they were doing,” Brady said. “There has to be somebody who’s held accountable.”

Illinois’ figures were gathered as part of a seven-month investigation in which AP reporters sought records on teacher discipline in all 50 states and the District of Columbia.

ISBE reviews allegations and other evidence in each case when deciding whether to revoke or suspend a teacher’s license, said spokesman Matt Vanover. But for certain convictions, the revocation of a teaching certificate is automatic, he said.

Twenty-two of the teachers have registered as sex offenders. Fifteen are “sexual predators,” meaning they have to re-register every year for the rest of their lives.

Some of them were considered standout educators.

Before he was convicted of sexually abusing a 17-year-old female student, Victor Barr was nominated for a 2000 Golden Apple Award for his work as a math teacher at Rockford’s East High School.

Others were principals or administrators.

Bryan Carlson was principal at Troy Crossroads Elementary School in Shorewood when police investigated allegations he’d posted explicit images of boys on the Web. He pleaded guilty to possession of child pornography in July 2004. Former Mattoon High School assistant principal Edward Kilday pleaded guilty to child pornography charges in 2004 after admitting that he had explicit images on his school computer.

Many doubled as coaches or club advisers.

Former Westmont High School basketball coach Steven Dimovski admitted to a sexual relationship with one of the suburban Chicago school’s cheerleaders. Toby Bolsen was a Scholastic Bowl coach at Sullivan High School in Moultrie County before pleading guilty to two counts of aggravated criminal sexual abuse. His victim was 17 years old, according to the sex offender database.

Only one of the registered sexual predators is a woman. Laurie Augustine, a former library aide at Glenbard East High School in DuPage County, pleaded guilty in July 2004 to having sex with three 17-year-old male students she met at school.

These teachers will never again see the inside of an Illinois classroom. But a recent high-profile case has some worried that Illinois doesn’t do enough to track teachers who could be serial sexual predators.

Jon Andrew White is charged in Champaign County with molesting nine girls while teaching second grade at Thomas Paine Grade School in Urbana. After those allegations surfaced, authorities say victims came forward in McLean County, where White previously worked as a first-grade teacher. Now he also faces charges that he allegedly abused two students at Colene Hoose Elementary School in Normal.

White has pleaded not guilty to all the charges. Urbana spokesman Mark Schultz declined to comment on White, citing the pending legal case. A Unit 5 spokeswoman did not return messages from The Associated Press.

“It’s not just that case, but (White) might be the straw that broke the camel’s back for me,” said Brady, who has also proposed a bill currently stalled in the House requiring superintendents to disclose sex abuse allegations against teachers when another district asks for a reference — even if the teacher hasn’t been formally charged.

“I want to try to get the superintendent in a position where he can say, ‘Mr. Jones is not in our employment and here’s why,’” Brady said.

If the accusations end up being false, the proposed bill could ruin a lot of teachers’ careers without any due process, said Gail Purkey, spokeswoman for the Illinois Federation of Teachers.

“You’re playing with people’s lives here and their professions and you’ve got to be careful of that,” Purkey said.

By law school personnel must report to the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services any instance in which a child could have been abused, Vanover said.

The Illinois School Code requires background investigations for all applicants, including teachers, food service workers and school bus drivers. School boards can’t knowingly hire people who have been convicted of a variety of crimes, including sex offenses.

TOP OF PAGE

Teens go online to protest 'moment of silence' law
By Elisabeth Mistretta, Daily Herald Staff Writer, 10/20/07 
 
Although they attend high schools more than 30 miles apart, the same issue worries 16-year-olds Sara Tews of Villa Park and Albert Plawinski of Carpentersville -- and about 150 of their friends.

As part of the Silent Reflection and Student Prayer Act that took effect in Illinois last week, schools must provide a mandatory moment of silence at the start of each day.

Tews, a junior at Willowbrook High School in Villa Park, and Plawinski, a sophomore at Jacobs High School in Algonquin, say the law crosses the line between separation of church and state -- a national value they've studied in history classes for years.

So to speak out, they headed to the most logical place to get teens' attention: the Internet.

Tews this week created Students Against Forced Silences in Illinois Schools on the social networking sites Facebook and MySpace.

Within three days, about 150 students had joined the forum from area high schools, including Glenbard East in Lombard, Lake Park in Roselle and Maine South in Park Ridge.

Their ultimate goal, Tews said, is to petition to change the law's wording back to its original format, saying schools "may" require the silence instead of "shall."

"I think that's just a sneaky way to get prayer into school," Tews said Friday. "I understand that technically the time is for students to do whatever they want -- reflect on their day or whatever.

"But personally, I don't think that would have passed in the government if it was just for kids to plan what they're going to do during the day," she said. "The word 'prayer' is said in the bill. That's a concern."

Some state representatives who supported the measure, including Republican state Rep. Dennis Reboletti of Elmhurst, said the new language simply clarifies things.

"When I voted for it, that wasn't my intention to introduce prayers into the schools," Reboletti said. "The silence was always optional.

"But maybe you have a class where one teacher offers it and another doesn't, so students don't have that opportunity," he said. "Now everyone has that opportunity."

Online, however, some students argue that prayer can be done on personal time and the law wastes money and valuable class time.

Plawinski says students who want to pray together should join clubs like the Bible studies organization at Jacobs High School.

"That's a perfect alternative for people who want to share their religious views," he said. "Our school is pretty open about that."

State Rep. Jack D. Franks, a Woodstock Democrat, applauded the students for starting their movement. Franks opposed the law and said it does a disservice to both major political parties.

"If you're a conservative, you don't like it because it is a mandate and it micromanages," Franks said. "If you're a liberal, it blurs the line between church and state."

This weekend, the students plan to meet and set up a plan of action. Plawinski said they are considering creating T-shirts with a catchy slogan and a link to their Web forum.

He said T-shirts are a good way to protest the law without being disrespectful during the actual moment of silence, for those who do pray or reflect.

Whether the students succeed in changing the law or not, Willowbrook Principal Daniel Krause said he smiled when he learned of their forum.

"I think anytime you have young adults actively participating from a civic-minded standpoint, that's fantastic," Krause said. "They're having a dialogue about things that affect them every day in a positive way."

TOP OF PAGE

The `silence' mandate: One state senator fights back

State Sen. Jeff Schoenberg, an Evanston Democrat, has written a letter to officials at Evanston/Skokie School District 65 urging them to seek a formal waiver of the new state law requiring that their teachers begin each classroom day with a "brief period of silence."
 
This new requirement of a moment of silence adds another unnecessary item to an already lengthy list of curriculum and other administrative requirements faced by the teachers in District 65. It represents undue interference in the ability of these teachers to manage their own classrooms and has nothing whatsoever to do with improving student performance.
 
Schoenberg pledged his support for any effort to petition the Illinois State Board of Education for a waiver of a requirement that his letter calls "onerous...troubling...(and) coercive."  Such requests are somewhat routine -- more than 4,000 have been granted since 1995 according to a state board report.
 
The law says:

Waivers or modifications of administrative rules and regulations and modifications of mandates of this School Code may be requested when an eligible applicant demonstrates that it can address the intent of the rule or mandate in a more effective, efficient, or economical manner or when necessary to stimulate innovation or improve student performance....
 
Applications and plans developed by eligible applicants must be approved by the board or regional superintendent of schools applying on behalf of schools or programs operated by the regional office of education following a public hearing on the application and plan and the opportunity for the board or regional superintendent to hear testimony from staff directly involved in its implementation, parents, and students. (emphasis added)
 
The General Assembly must then approve the request, which could prove interesting. This was supposed to be feel-good, exhortative legislation, according to one of its major sponsors.
 
But if certain schools decide to try to opt out -- the District 65 board will take up Schoenberg's request at the regularly scheduled meeting Nov. 5, according to the schools' communications manager Pat Markham -- will the majority of lawmakers who backed the mandatory silence and overrode Gov. Rod Blagojevich's veto go the extra step of compelling an unwilling school district to perform this daily ritual?
 
Ms. Mary Erickson
Chairman
Evanston/Skokie School District 65 Board
1500 McDaniel Ave.   
Evanston, IL  60201
 
Dear Chairman Erickson,
 
Last week, the Illinois House and Senate voted to override Governor Rod Blagojevich’s veto of Senate Bill 1463, The Silent Reflection and Student Prayer Act. This legislation now requires all Illinois public schools to begin their days with a mandatory moment of silence and is effective immediately. 
 
Prior to this new law taking effect, teachers in Illinois public schools had the option to incorporate a moment of silence into their daily classroom schedules. Now, every teacher across the state will be required to impose a moment of silence on their students each and every day. 
 
Setting aside the question of whether it is at all appropriate for the General Assembly to be devoting attention to a moment of silence when much more pressing issues regarding school funding and educational achievement remain unresolved, I believe the mandatory moment of silence is an onerous requirement for which District 65 should seek a mandate waiver immediately from the Illinois State Board of Education. 
 
This new requirement of a moment of silence adds another unnecessary item to an already lengthy list of curriculum and other administrative requirements faced by the teachers in District 65. It represents undue interference in the ability of these teachers to manage their own classrooms and has nothing whatsoever to do with improving student performance.
 
Moreover, the Act provides no guidance on how the moment of silence is to be conducted. It says nothing about how long it should be or whether and how it should be explained to the students. Further, the law does not explain how the failure to observe the moment of silence, by either teacher or student, should be dealt with.
 
Finally, the argument that the mandatory moment of silence is not an endorsement of prayer or religion, but is instead merely a time for personal reflection, is indeed questionable. It is not difficult to see how, in some classrooms across the state, the moment of silence will cross the threshold and be interpreted as a state-sanctioned opportunity to offer a prayer at the beginning of the school day. For those students who do not share the religious beliefs of those imposing or enacting the requirement, this is particularly troubling.
 
The expression of faith plays a central role in the lives of many families in our community, and its intrinsic value in shaping our children’s values systems cannot be discounted. However, these intensely personal experiences should be realized in our homes and in our community’s many fine houses of worship, not in our public schools.
 
This new law is simply too coercive. Therefore, for all of the reasons stated above, I urge you and your colleagues on the Evanston/Skokie District 65 Board to immediately initiate the necessary procedures so as to swiftly seek a mandate waiver from the Illinois State Board of Education. You have my full assistance and support for whatever you may need to reclaim this valuable classroom time for instruction.
 
Sincerely,
 
Jeff Schoenberg
Illinois State Senate
9th District
 
cc:  Evanston/Skokie School District 65 board members
      Supt. Hardy Murphy
      Ms. Dorothy Millard, President, District Educators Council
 
TOP OF PAGE

Recruitment a rarity in high school
By Jim Owczarski, Beacon News Staff writer, 10/21/07

Recruitment of students or attempted recruitment of students for athletic purposes is prohibited, regardless of their residence -- IHSA athletic by-law 3.070 The Illinois High School Association's recruiting by-law has three subsections and 44 illustrations detailing what is -- and what is not -- recruiting. The rule applies to every member high school of the IHSA, public and private.

Both types of high schools are allowed to recruit students at the junior high level, yet there is a perception that private high schools illegally recruit athletes.

"If you're a (private-school) coach at a really successful sport, the first perception is that we recruit," Rosary and Marmion swim coach Bill Schalz said. "You don't hear it about the schools that are struggling in sports. It's always out there."

Since the IHSA began listing eligibility decisions in the announcements section of its web site in 1996, the numbers indicate that while illegal athletic recruiting does occur, the perception dwarfs the reality. Only nine high schools have been disciplined for outright recruiting violations, just two of which were private ( see box 1 ).

The IHSA did not respond to several information and interview requests, so it is unknown if there have been other unpublished recruiting violations.

The reality

In terms of drawing students, the main differences between the two high schools are that private schools have the ability to pull from within a 30-mile radius and can offer different forms of financial assistance. According athletic by-law 3.070 however, private and public school administrators can "initiate contact" with a potential student, as long as there is a "understanding that the young person is a prospective student, not a prospective athlete."

School coaches and officials can also distribute information and answer questions, and a coach can talk about his or her specific sport if a family approaches them.

Private schools also have entrance requirements -- something public schools do not have -- though some are stricter than others.

"As a tuition school, we offer academic scholarships," Marmion headmaster John Milroy said. "And these are competitive based academic scholarships that everybody is eligible for. But bottom line, I don't think we do a whole lot different than public schools."

Those differences often lead to whispers that private schools recruit specific athletes or push financial aid packages supposedly open to all students towards athletes.

"This is a political hotbed," said Bob Williams, who coached football at Aurora Central Catholic, Yorkville and West Aurora and is now the principal at Minooka High School. "Sometimes we may formulate our opinions based on what we think, (which) isn't really true. The perception may be different from what the actual fact is." ( see box 3 )

Williams said that while at ACC he never recruited an athlete and while coaching at Yorkville, he never lost a player because of recruitment.

"You hear all sorts of stuff and hearsay is hearsay, you take it at the value you want," he said. "My responsibility would be to follow whatever IHSA guidelines if we felt there was recruiting taking place. You hear stuff all the time, especially when you lose that tough game in the playoffs against certain schools, but hey, they were the better football team that day."

The perception

When former Oswego wrestler Joey Benefiel transferred to Montini Catholic after his sophomore year in 2001, the IHSA ruled him ineligible for violating transfer sub-section 3.043, which is a residency sub-section. He had to sit out until Feb. 24, 2002, the day after the wrestling season ended.

The rumor was that he was recruited, in part to create access to his younger brother Mike, who went on to win four state titles with the Broncos. Joey, now a senior at Elmhurst College, steadfastly denies being recruited. He and his father, Dan, said personal problems at Oswego caused him to look for a change of scenery, but he does acknowledge one of the reasons he picked Montini was because of the wrestling program.

Benefiel's ineligibility had nothing to do with transfer sub-section 3.046, which is often thought of by private school administrators as a way to prevent the recruitment of students already in high school. While every other type of transfer (and its rules for eligibility) are spelled out, a student moving from public to private is always "ineligible pending a ruling by the executive director." This was not the case with Benefiel.

Mike Benefiel, now a Northwestern University freshman, also said he was never recruited and never approached by the Montini coaching staff until his family approached them -- which is allowed by IHSA rules for both public and private schools.

Yet Benefiel and his Broncos teammates, which won team wrestling titles in 2004 and 2005, heard the accusations.

"It's not true," Mike Benefiel said. "I kind of think a lot of public schools who weren't as good or who we were beating were trying to make excuses and trying to be like 'Oh, they recruit and that's why they're so good.' They don't realize that we actually work hard and that we give it our all and pour our hearts into the sport."

Schalz experienced first hand the power of perception as well. He was hit with recruiting allegations as soon as he stepped in the door at Marmion after a neighboring public school accused him of coaxing a transfer. The IHSA subsequently cleared him of any wrongdoing.

"It's automatic," he said. "For us, any time a team does well, 'Oh, they must be cheating.' It's not looked at like our coaching staff has put together a good program, we have a school that supports what we're doing and that's why we're successful.

"When you're 2-20, nobody cares. But when you're 20-2, now all of a sudden people are looking at you."

Tim Cederblad, who coached football at Benet Academy in Lisle and at West Aurora, is now a dean at Plainfield South. He said that this perception is driven largely by private schools in football ( see box 2 ).

"You have so far fewer of those power programs in the 'off sports,'" Cederblad said. "Football is the main kicker there."

But not one private school that won a state football championship since 1974 has had it vacated because of recruitment or any other reason. In fact, no private school has had to vacate its title because of recruitment specifically. Hales Franciscan, which lost its 2005 Class A championship in boys basketball, had to vacate it because the school was not recognized by the Illinois State Board of Education since June, 2003, which is a requirement of IHSA membership.

"I think that's the misperception on some of those schools," said Mark Lindo, the current boys basketball coach at Naperville North who led Aurora Central Catholic to a Class A state baseball title in 1983. "They're a drawing card for superior athletes in those disciplines. People are looking for something that probably, most of the time, isn't there. But people are looking for that. For a lack of a better word, I think there is a jealousy issue."

Something to offer

It is legal for families to shop for a high school, and they can visit with school administrators and make first contacts with coaches. If a public school has shown dominance in a sport, it is not uncommon for a family to move or keep a second residence within the district.

"Parents relocate," Schalz said. "If you have a good athlete in a particular sport you're going to relocate."

Schalz recalled a time in the early 1990's when St. Charles High School had families with young swimmers move into the district to be a part of a girls team that won six straight state titles from 1994-1999. The Naperville Central girls basketball teams that won state titles in 2003 and 2004 also had several highly publicized transfers in.

Families can shop for private schools and its programs as well, but they would not need to move within a district.

It's a situation where coaches feel if the public school in the area can offer the same educational, social and athletic atmosphere as a private school, families would not send their children elsewhere.

"It becomes a simple question, 'Why would someone want to leave your program to go somewhere else?,'" Williams said. "Obviously they're lacking something."

Familial preferences are often dismissed when it comes to why a student attends a private school. Sometimes that child attended a private grade school. Other times a greater academic challenge is sought out, or smaller class sizes or a perceived safer environment.

"Many of our families want the Christian environment, want the Catholic environment and we provide that," Marmion director of guidance and head football coach Dan Thorpe said. "Are they coming for athletics? No. That's part of the puzzle, but they're coming to Marmion because they want a great college prep education where they can participate in two to three sports and then they know their child is going to be very organized and disciplined to take on the pressures of the college environment."

Shades of gray

In 2005 Milroy submitted a proposal to the IHSA in response to the multiplier, which often bumps private schools into larger classes of competition during the postseason. Milroy's proposal stated that the multiplier "will not address the real or perceived concern of illegal or inappropriate recruiting of student-athletes."

He proposed a separate office within the IHSA that deals only with recruiting, like the compliance officers found at every level of the NCAA. Currently, superintendents, principals and coaches are responsible for making sure recruiting is discovered and reported.

"Which principal?," Cederblad said with a laugh. "What principal, or any administrator, has got time to do that?"

Most coaches contacted for this story agree that some forms of recruiting does take place, but many times that recruiting occurs along the edges of the IHSA by-laws.

For instance, it is acceptable for members of any high school to address an entire eighth grade class and talk about their school, but it is against the rules to pull aside the team's star point guard and talk basketball. Yet a situation like that occurs in a setting where people are working together with a common interest. Who would report such a meeting?

"That goes back to the school districts (and) administration of that district and how they want to have their own self-institutional control," Lindo said. "I don't think that is the IHSA's job to be the 'bad guy.'"

So when illegal athletic recruiting or undue influence does occur, it oftentimes does not come with a paper trail, leading to questions as to how it really can be controlled or even if it happens at all.

But because of the multiplier and the transfer by-law ( see box 4 ), some feel the IHSA is endorsing the perception of recruiting.

"The perception on the part of the average person, because of what the IHSA has done, is we're recruiting athletes or going around trying to do measurements of students and that's just not the reality," Milroy said. "That's not reality. It may occur, and I'm not saying it doesn't occur because I'm not that naive, but the multiplier, which people thought was going to level the playing field doesn't address the issue of recruitment for athletics, or scholarship money for athletics, or whatever."

Most agree, however, that there is no happy medium and no way to make any school believe their counterparts aren't recruiting illegally. Some have issues with the fact that private schools can draw from a bigger pool of families, others don't. Some believe the transfer rules are equitable, others do not.

One thing all agree on though, and that is self-policing.

"If you take high school athletics and what it's supposed to be, it's supposed to be an extension of the classroom, it's supposed to be a learning experience, it's supposed to be a participation experience," Lindo said. "If you're that concerned about wins and losses that you are basically putting your reputation, your character and your value system on the line for a 12 or 13 year old that may or may not ever help you get to the promised land, I think that's a really poor choice."

TOP OF PAGE

Suburban farms going, but ag education's staying
New state program addresses need for schools to teach landscaping
By Tara Malone, Daily Herald Staff Writer, 10/22/07 

Lenin Campos grew up nowhere near a farm.

He had never heard of the 4-H Club, let alone belonged to one.

Yet this Glenbard North High School senior spends two hours every school day studying landscape design, irrigation and plant species. Out of class, he mows, weeds and edges more than a dozen lawns in a budding business.

The combination thrusts Campos to the forefront of a resurgence in agriculture education.

High schools statewide increasingly refashion agriculture courses with an eye toward the industry's marshaling financial strength and away from the family farm.

Nearly two-thirds of the 26,329 students enrolled in agriculture courses last year came from suburbs or cities. Just 13 percent have farming backgrounds, according to a study by the Illinois Leadership for Agriculture Education.

"The bulk of these students are not preparing themselves to go back to the farm," said Jay Runner, of the Facilitating Coordination in Agriculture Education project. "The emphasis now is on trying to bring the non-traditional students."

So in an industry awash in jobs -- Illinois businesses connected to crop production, plant sales or landscaping employed about 166,000 people and were valued at $4.7 billion in 2003 -- state educators look to the suburbs and cities to draw more teens to the academic discipline and ultimately, the profession.

Amid collar counties replete with acres of lawns that need tending, landscape design and management tops course lists. Horticulture and food sustainability also are popular picks, experts said.

"We're not doing the large farm animal or crop production," said Jodi Wirt, associate superintendent for instruction in Naperville Unit District 203. "We are looking at ways that students might enter the work force in different areas and with different interests."

Nearly two dozen high school programs across the Chicago area prepare teens for everything from tackling food safety for a big box store to managing plant sales for a greenhouse or schooling a new wave of students in agriculture literacy.

"We need to get to them in elementary school and let them know the milk they have didn't just come from the store or why cars are more efficient because they use ethanol or what farmers do to keep the water supply clean," said James Anderson, an agriculture education professor at University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.

Illinois this year plans to invest $2.9 million in the effort, as it has for the past two years.

High schools in Chicago and the Northwest and West suburbs received 5.5 percent -- or $56,067 -- of $1 million in agriculture grants parceled out by the Illinois State Board of Education at the start of the school year.

The Illinois Leadership Council of Agriculture Education last month unveiled plans to recruit teachers to fill vacancies that have ranged from three dozen to six dozen annually since 1992.

State lawmakers created the council in 1986 after the farming industry said academic training was needed to ensure a continued source of trained, qualified agriculture workers. Three years later, a project called Facilitating Coordination in Agriculture Education debuted to strengthen programs statewide. Since then, state funding for agriculture education climbed from $48,500 to $2.9 million today.

In an unprecedented move, the group last year hired an expert to spur agriculture programs in Chicago and suburban schools specifically.

"We're just on the cusp of things," said Sarah Hileman, charged with the new role.

Gains are measured in small steps, she said. Area elementary and middle schools routinely recruit Hileman to talk about agriculture careers. But starting programs from scratch takes time. Statewide, seven launched this fall, including two in northern Illinois.

In Naperville, District 203 high schools added an advanced animal biology class, the only new addition in three years. This augments offerings that include landscape science, greenhouse crop production and floral design.

Aurora's Waubonsie Valley High School has a three-year horticulture sequence capped by an internship.

Hampshire High School students can study agriculture mechanics -- how do you repair a tractor? -- or horticulture science, where they learn about plant propagation, greenhouse management and hand tools. The course offerings have been around for more than three decades.

"In Hampshire, there are still farms out there," said Elaine Morton of Dundee Township's Community Unit District 300. "So (the courses) do focus some on equipment repair and those kinds of things, which, in some cases, is still applicable."

In Addison, the Technology Center of DuPage last year revived an agriculture program at the career and technical education campus for high school juniors and seniors in area public schools.

For more than a dozen years, the school's greenhouse sat empty, the classroom building enlisted as storage space. The horticulture program fizzled. For 16 years, nothing replaced it.

The region's booming landscape business changed that.

Repackaged as a landscape design and management program, the course drew 16 students during the inaugural year. Ten teens -- including Glenbard North's Lenin Campos -- currently attend, studying everything from computerized design to plant science and turf grass.

At least half their grade comes down to what instructor Brian Clement calls their employability -- how often they attend class and if they arrive on time and prepared. What Clement expects today, clients will expect tomorrow.

"A lot of people don't think of landscaping as part of agriculture," Clement said. "But it is a huge part of urban agriculture."

Landscape design, installation and maintenance drove agriculture service revenues that totaled $2 million in 2003, according to a University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign study.

The steady push toward farther-flung suburbs with large yards nudges demand steadily higher.

In addition, many suburban homeowners increasingly invest in landscaping, looking to extend their home's livable space -- and with it, their resale values.

More demand means more jobs.

"The need is just phenomenal," said Jeff Korhan of Plainfield-based Treemendous Landscape Co. "There are so few people that seem to be tuned into this profession. … If there are good people out there, they are not going to be looking long."

Campos is banking on it.

The Glenbard North senior still doesn't belong to the 4-H.

The idea that he represents the new future of agriculture education in Illinois doesn't much faze him.

For Campos, the two hours he spends in class refining the landscape skills he learned at his father's side are an investment in his future. He hopes to broaden his lawn care business to include installation and building.

"I've always like it, just working outside. I don't like the computer too much," Campos shrugs. "But I'm always learning here."
 
TOP OF PAGE

State Sen. Radogno attacks education myth in Darien
Lane Kelley, Suburban Life
 
State Sen. Christine Radogno, R-41st District, of La Grange, attacked a popular — but misunderstood — fact about school funding in Illinois this week when she spoke at a Darien school board meeting.
 
Radogno, speaking to parents and board members of Cass School District 63, addressed a fact frequently cited by pro-tax hike supporters, that Illinois ranks 48th in the nation in state funding of education while ranking fifth in population.
 
Yet, Radogno noted the state ranks 18th in terms of total education expenditures for students, according to the National Education Association. The NEA’s Web site shows Illinois ranks much higher, fifth nationwide, in total expenditures for public schools, and seventh nationwide in total federal, state and local revenues for public schools.
 
“So in terms of the total amount that we spend on kids in education, it is incorrect to say that we are the laggards down at the bottom of the barrel,” Radogno said.
 
The national average teacher salary is $55,421, though District 63’s average teacher salary is higher.
 
“You guys are doing really well because you’re at $62,438,” Radogno said.

Such facts went over like a bad report card with her audience, though.
 
District 63 has been struggling financially for two years. In budget-cutting moves, school officials decided to stop offering free bus service for students this year. Radogno showed slides indicating the state has doubled education funding in the past decade, but District 63 board members were not impressed.
 
“It’s not coming to our area,” said board member Bill Carpenter.
 
Jackie Hynek asked Radogno how the board could find more money.

“We are a high-performing School District that in the last two years has cut $2.2 million out of our budget,” she said, “and we’re not getting out of our problems.”
 
Said Radogno: “My guess is that you will remain a high-achieving school district because you are a high-achieving parent. I don’t say that sarcastically but again, you are so important to your child’s success. Not to minimize the schools ... but you as parents are what are making the children successful....”
 
After Radogno spoke and left the meeting, Hynek dissected her speech.
 
“I don’t agree with the senator,” Hynek said, “because what she said is that I may as well pull my kids out of school and home school them, because the only reason why my kids are smart and high-achieving is because of what I do at home.”
 
Superintendent Kerry Foderaro thanked Radogno for speaking before a critical audience.
 
“It was very nice of the senator not to take any of our criticism personally and let us use her as therapy,” Foderaro said.
 
Southeastern Illinois State Rep Not Surprised by 900 Schools Failing 

State Representative Roger Eddy says it's no big surprise that 900 schools in Illinois failed to meet standards in reading and math. Eddy, who is the superintendent of schools in Hutsonville in South Eastern Illinois, says part of the problem is students in special education programs have to meet the same standards as every other student.

Eddy says the law does not reasonably distinguish students who have an individualized plan for their special education away from the regular student population. He notes the law expects those students to meet or exceed standards that shouldn't apply to them.
 
Eddy says that if a school fails one category, then the school as a whole is considered failing. He says it is only going to get worse because the standards go up each year.
 
Eddy adds one of the problems with No Child Left Behind is that it doesn't do a good job helping school funding so failing schools can improve. He feels that the law should be more reasonable or else the intent of the law will be lost when more schools start failing.

TOP OF PAGE

District 204 teachers get rewarded for beating heat
Melissa Jenco, Daily Herald
 
Indian Prairie Unit District 204 teachers who put up with hot classrooms got a hot lunch for their trouble.
 
The school district spent about $9,800 this fall on gift certificates for all faculty and staff in the 19 elementary schools that do not have air conditioning.
 
Roughly 1,400 employees received $7 gift certificates to Panera Bread.
 
"The gift card was a small acknowledgment of appreciation to our teachers for the extra care and attention they provided to students while continuing to focus on instruction during some challenging days," Nancy Pedersen, assistant superintendent for human resources, said via e-mail.
 
At the beginning of the school year, temperatures in some classrooms ranged from the 80s to the 90s, according to a report Jay Strang, director of buildings and grounds, gave the school board in mid-September.
 
Owen and Peterson are the only elementary schools that have air conditioning.
 
Valerie Dranias, teachers union president, said the temperatures in the classrooms made it difficult for both students and teachers to concentrate.
 
"It was a very nice gesture," she said of the gift cards. "They understand it was not easy."
 
The gift cards were purchased using district funds. Superintendent Stephen Daeschner said staff handled the heat well and deserved a reward for the inconvenience.
 
"It wasn't that much," he said. "And we thought with whatever they put up with, it was very appropriate."
 
TOP OF PAGE

Substitute Shortage
Sarah Jindra, WCIA-TV/Champaign
 
The Champaign School District is in desperate need of more substitute teachers and it's not alone.  Districts across Central Illinois say they're hurting for subs, and they're doing everything they can to stop the shortage.
 
In Champaign's Unit 4 District, there's a list of 200 teachers to call when a substitute is needed.  But that list has been exhausted more than once this year.  Other districts are having the same problem. 
 
Ed Peterson used to be a substitute teacher for the Urbana School District.  He says he stopped subbing because the pay was so low.  "I thought well, if that's all the worse they want me, I'll just find something else to do," says Peterson.
 
Districts are continuing to lose substitutes like Peterson.  This year, the Champaign district is about 50 short and it has already pulled counselors and teachers from their free periods to cover classrooms.  "If you pull a counselor in to substitute for a classroom, that person can't give counseling services.  And that's a necessary service and that's why they're employed in that position.  So you really don't want to do that," says Beth Shepperd, spokesperson for the Champaign School District.
 
Peterson says it's a simple solution, "they need to pay more, that's the bottom line."
 
Danville upped pay by $50 a week this summer.  It's helped, but the district is still in need of more substitutes.  Champaign tried raising rates two years ago to a starting wage of $75 a day.  It's next push will be for retired teachers to come back and sub. It plans to send a survey to see what it will take to get them in the buildings again.  "We don't have a solution at this point, other than to keep seeking substitutes and I'm very hopeful for retired teacher pool," says Shepperd.
 
With many districts facing a shortage, it makes it even harder to find substitutes.  That's because a lot of the subs have their names in at several districts making the pool they have to choose from even smaller.

TOP OF PAGE

TB case hasn't fueled scare at high school
Kimberly Pohl, Daily Herald
 
It's business as usual at Barrington High School following last week's news that one of its students has come down with tuberculosis.
 
Barrington Area Unit District 220 Superintendent Tom Leonard said attendance was typical for a Monday, and that no special precautions have been necessary.
 
A Lake County Health Department staff member will be at school today to test about 30 students and staff determined to have been in close enough proximity to be at risk of infection. Test results take about two days.
 
"(The health department) has indicated they'd be surprised if any more positive cases are found based on the infectious nature," Leonard said.
 
Officials say the student, who has not been identified, has "regular TB," as opposed to the more dangerous extensively drug-resistant TB or multidrug-resistant TB, the strain that infected the Atlanta lawyer who created a public health scare by potentially exposing passengers while flying over the summer.
 
Treatment for the regular kind of TB involves multiple drugs taken daily for six to nine months, said Cook County Department of Public Health spokeswoman Kitty Loewy.
 
Patients usually must have three negative tests before they're allowed to return to their normal routine. That could be 10 days or two weeks, Loewy said.
 
The Cook County health department typically treats about 120 active cases of TB annually. Lake County, where Barrington High is located, has by comparison reported 10 cases this year.
 
Barrington High was notified by Cook County health officials, who'd been informed of the diagnosis by the student's physician.
 
The case hasn't prompted any panic or even many calls of concern.
 
"There were some phone calls and conversations with parents from that group of 30," Leonard said. "But the feedback has mostly been people thankful for the information.
 
"It's a large school district with lots of kids," he added. "Different diseases will come through. It's the nature of the beast."
 
In the meantime, there's no need for the school to take additional measures, Leonard said. The school did its typical cleaning over the weekend and simply "picked it up a notch" in certain rooms.
 
"Even if the virus is in the room, it naturally dies within a short period of time," he said.
 
TOP OF PAGE

New state laws aim to boost school bus safety
Champaign News-Gazette
 
Several new laws are designed to make school bus travel safer, but students, parents and drivers must remain vigilant, according to State Board of Education and Illinois Department of Transportation officials.
 
The reminder marked the start of National School Bus Safety Week, an annual public awareness campaign. This year's theme is "Be Aware, Cross with Care."
 
"Many of our more than 2 million students either ride the school bus to and from school or to an extracurricular activity," said a statement from State Schools Superintendent Christopher Koch. "While school buses are the safest way for students to be transported, accidents do occur."
 
Koch said many of those accidents involved motorists attempting to pass a school bus that had stopped to load or unload and turned on its flashing red warning lights.
 
One new law, which takes effect on New Year's Day, addresses just that situation. It states that if the owner of a vehicle that passes a school bus illegally claims that another driver was actually behind the wheel, he or she must identify the driver to the state's attorney or the vehicle's registration will be suspended for three months.
 
Members of the public can soon report erratic school bus driving under another new law that kicks in on Jan. 1. The law requires a phone number to be posted on the rear of all Illinois school buses for reporting any driving concerns. It also orders school districts and contractors to set policies for investigating such complaints and requires them to report the results.
 
Another new law seeks to address the problem of sleeping children accidentally left on board a school bus at the end of a run.
 
The law, which took effect in August, requires all school districts and school bus contractors to adopt a rule that drivers must turn on interior lights and walk to the rear of the bus to be sure that it is empty. The policies must be in place by New Year's Day.
 
Two other new laws that took effect in August allow school buses to turn on their strobe light anytime students are on board and allow for visual and audio recordings inside the bus.
 
Parents and students must be notified of any such recordings, and the tapes must be kept confidential.They can only be used for law enforcement or school investigations.
 
For information on school bus safety, visit www.isbe.net/funding/html/bus_safety.htm or www.cyberdriveillinois.com/departments/drivers/traffic_safety/school_bus_safety/home.html.

TOP OF PAGE

School silence law kicks up a big fuss
By Tara Malone, Chicago Tribune staff reporter, 10/26/07

Two weeks after a new law mandated a moment of silence in Illinois public schools, the debate is anything but quiet.

Pockets of students, parents and teachers who take issue with the law's intent have staged walkouts, online protests and letter-writing campaigns to state lawmakers in the hope of reversing the measure, which makes Illinois one of 11 states with requisite periods of reflection. A 14-year-old student is expected to file the first legal challenge to the law Friday, thrusting Illinois even further into the thick of the national school-prayer debate.

Buffalo Grove High School freshman Dawn Sherman and her father, atheist and activist Rob Sherman, contend the law providing for "silent prayer or for silent reflection on the anticipated activities of the day" runs afoul of the constitutional separation of church and state. They plan to seek an injunction to prevent the observance of a moment of silence in Township High School District 214, which is scheduled to begin the practice Tuesday.

They also hope to reverse the statute statewide, said Gregory Kulis, an attorney representing the Shermans.

"I just don't want my education to be interrupted," said Dawn Sherman, who successfully campaigned to drop "God Bless America" from the homecoming school song list this fall.

District 214 spokeswoman Venetia Miles said officials there expected legal action and alerted their lawyers.

Waukegan teacher Brian Bown knows firsthand how difficult overturning such laws can be.

Bown challenged a Georgia law enacted in 1994 that mandated a period of reflection. The Wheaton native worked at the time as a high school teacher in an Atlanta suburb of Snellville.

"I just felt like this is not something to be done in school, out of respect for everybody," said Bown, 54, a special education teacher at Waukegan's Benny Middle School.

In the end, Bown lost both his job and a legal battle that dragged on for seven years, and teachers in Georgia schools still must conduct a period of reflection every day. That Illinois teachers now must do the same confounds Bown, who said he will walk out of class in protest when the observance begins.

"It's deja vu," Bown said. "It's the same things, the same arguments being said 13 years later."

Titled the Silent Reflection and Student Prayer Act, the Illinois law makes obligatory what had been an optional moment of silence since 2002. Lawmakers overrode Gov. Rod Blagojevich's veto of the measure, which states "the period shall not be conducted as a religious exercise." Enacted Oct. 11, the law was effective immediately but carries no penalties for schools that do not comply.

School administrators then scrambled to determine such nuts-and-bolts issues as what constitutes a moment -- in some districts three seconds suffices, while in others it can last up to 20 seconds -- and when to pause for the observance during the morning routine of announcements and Pledge of Allegiance.

In Chicago, district officials sent a memo to schools Thursday after consulting administrators, teachers and lawyers, said spokesman Michael Vaughn. Administrators were directed to observe a brief period of reflection after the Pledge of Allegiance, and were reminded that the time should not be used for religious purposes.

Gurnee's Woodland School District 50 also proceeded with care. School board members tabled the issue until they receive clearer direction from their attorneys and the Illinois State Board of Education. The state agency informed school districts about the law two weeks ago, but said decisions about how long or when in the morning a moment of silence occurs are best resolved locally.

"We do need to obey it, but we want to do it in a way that our community is satisfied," District 50 School Board President Bruce Bohren said.

Northbrook-Glenview School District 30 this week began to sandwich five seconds of reflection after the Pledge and before daily news. School officials said they've received no complaints about the new practice, outlined in a letter to parents last week.

"We couch it in how they're going to make it a good day and a positive day. That's it. We leave it to [the pupils] to take it from there," Assistant Supt. Elaine Aumiller said.

Many educators and students alike dismissed the law as bizarre but said a few seconds of thought at the start of a school day does not hurt.

"In my mind, 10 seconds is not a big issue," said Jay Sabatino, superintendent of Lake Villa-based Community High School District 117. "It's just a strange law."

Debate sprouted quickly among students in high school civics classes and online discussion groups. A forum on the social networking Web site Facebook drew more than 1,000 members to discussions about the merits of personal reflection, the history of secularism and how to contact Illinois legislators to register concern or support.

Stevenson High School junior Aliya de Grazia often logs on to chime into the discussion. There, she first floated the idea of a walkout from the Lincolnshire school to protest what she calls a legislative overstep. About a dozen students left first-period class last Friday when the moment of silence was observed.

Skipping class -- in de Grazia's case, non-Western civilization -- meant she and others involved must spend three hours Saturday in study hall.

"It's good for a lot of students to take a moment and think about their day, but that should be done on their own time," de Grazia said. "This doesn't seem like a big deal now, but these kinds of things can escalate."
 
TOP OF PAGE

Education Funding Hold-Up
WSIL-TV, Carbondale

CARBONDALE -- It's been a long battle to get the state budget passed, but school leaders say there's still a missing piece. The general assembly has yet to pass a budget implementation bill to release funds to schools.
 
With the November 1 deadline fast approaching, local lawmakers fear schools state-wide will miss out. At Wednesday's press conference, Representative Mike Bost explained that for this bill to get to the floor it takes unanimous consent. He says that leaves the power with house speaker Michael Madigan. So Bost is calling on residents in southern Illinois to demand that he takes action.
 
"The democrat leadership in the house is not calling the bills. If they will call the bill- it will pass," says Bost.
 
Bost says time is running out for leaders in the general assembly. He says they have the power to make $544 million in new state education funds a reality. It comes down to passing the budget implementation bill -- or BIMP.
 
"The budget puts the money in the bank, the BIMP writes the checks," Bost says.
 
Without it, school leaders could face major losses come November first. "Carbondale Elementary and Carbondale High School stand to lose approximately $1 million," says Carbondale High School Superintendent Steve Sabens.
 
Nashville Superintendent Wendy Davis says her district will struggle as well, "No matter how hard we try, if we lose this $175 thousand there's absolutely no way we'd have a balanced budget. We can't absorb that kind of loss."
 
Bost says what's causing it is a "neighborhood fight" among Chicago democratic leadership. "We've got three democrats who hate each other so much that it's more of a personal vendetta between each other to make the other look bad at the sacrifice of our children all over Illinois," says Bost.
 
"You've heard the statement over and over again-- the kids are being held hostage on this and to some extent that's true," says Sabens.
 
Bost along with area superintendents want residents to contact leaders in the general assembly before it's too late.
 
"There's a lack of action until sometimes you really feel the pain," says Sabens, "I think at some point communities will start to feel that pain."
 
With just about a week until the November first deadline, Bost says if you've got any friends or relatives up north ask them to contact their legislators.
 
Also here's a list of phone numbers you can call-- asking for the budget implementation bill to be passed.
 
Speaker of the House Michael Madigan: (773) 581-8000
Senate President Emil Jones: (773) 995-7748
Governor Rod Blagojevich: (217) 782-0244

TOP OF PAGE

District investigates whether sex offender went on school field trips
Jeff Kolkey, Rockford Register Star
 
Rockford School District officials and Rockford police are investigating to determine whether a registered sex offender was allowed to accompany his child on recent field trips.
 
Parents are alleging that a Thompson Elementary School father is a registered sex offender and was allowed to chaperone with other parents on the trips, Rockford police Sgt. Bob Redmond said.
 
“It is under investigation as to what has taken place and if there is any criminal violation,” Redmond said.
 
The father has not been arrested and officials are not releasing his name. A parent reported the situation to Rockford police on Wednesday morning.
 
School officials and police said no children were harmed by the parent.
 
“There has been absolutely no indication from anybody that any students or children were harmed in any way,” School Board attorney Stephen Katz said. “My understanding is the issue is whether or not a registered sex offender was allowed in the presence of students at a school function improperly.”
 
Katz said registered sex offenders who are parents of children are allowed on school grounds or to attend school functions only under certain circumstances.
 
Those instances include parent-teacher conferences when the principal is notified of his or her presence.
 
A sex offender can also be given permission to attend school functions by the School Board or the superintendent. But whenever a sex offender is on school property, he or she must be supervised by the superintendent or designee of the superintendent.
 
Board member David Kelley said there were apparently two policies on sex offender participation in school events that were in conflict. One of them, board policy 8.60, was supposed to have been replaced in February 2006 to comply with new state laws limiting registered sex offenders’ presence on school property.
 
It was still listed under board policies on the district Web site, until this latest issue was brought to the attention of the School District. It was then immediately removed from the online policy list on Katz’s orders.
 
“We would like to be on top of everything every time, but this is the third-largest school district in the state with nearly 30,000 students and that means tens of thousands of parents and the registry is voluminous too, so it is not an easy matter,” Kelley said

TOP OF PAGE

Staph invades multiple schools
New outbreaks reported Thursday
Associated Press
 
New outbreaks of staph infection were reported in a half dozen more suburban schools Thursday, causing a parochial school in Aurora to be closed and countless desktops to be scrubbed with hospital-grade disinfectants.
 
But it's unclear whether the so-called superbug cases in several suburbs represent an unusually high number, or a blip triggered by a Virginia student's death and a government report estimating the bug kills nearly 19,000 Americans a year.
 
Holy Angels Catholic School, 720 Kensington Place in Aurora, was closed Thursday after it was notified there is a confirmed case of MRSA at the school. Principal Norb Rozanski said health officials would not divulge whether the case involves a student or faculty member.
 
Meanwhile, new cases of staph were reported at schools in Naperville, Rolling Meadows, Gurnee, Huntley, Streamwood, Schiller Park, Bellwood, Woodstock and Joliet Township.
 
MRSA, or Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus, is a strain of bacteria that can be found in the nasal passages, skin or bodily secretions but does not necessarily produce the disease.
 
There is no cause for panic, health officials said, while also urging hand-washing and proper wound care. The infection spreads through skin-to-skin contact and shared personal items such as towels and razors.
 
"We've … had steady, intermittent reports from schools and correctional facilities over the past couple of years" of drug-resistant staph infections, said Dr. Craig Conover of the Illinois Department of Public Health.
 
Drug-resistant staph bacteria are not as common as regular staph. About 30 percent of people harbor common staph bacteria on their skin and in their noses without symptoms.
 
But some strains have become resistant to mainline antibiotics. MRSA can turn deadly if it enters the bloodstream or lead to necrotizing fasciitis, a flesh-destroying infection.
 
And while the chances of that are low, local schools are taking precautions.
 
At Holy Angels in Aurora, 57 staff members and some parents are cleaning lockers and anything the 644 students may have touched. Any clothes or items found in students' lockers will be sent home Friday in sealed plastic bags for parents to wash.
 
The school is expected to reopen today.
 
"We are making sure and doing what we have to do for the students' safety," Rozanski said.
 
The state's second-largest school district, Elgin Area School District U-46, reported one case of MRSA at Canton Middle School in Streamwood.
 
Spokesman Tony Sanders said that, according to the CDC, one case does not constitute an outbreak, and the school will remain open. U-46 sent a letter to all students' homes, pledging to keep all "high-risk" areas of the school thoroughly clean and advising students of the importance of maintaining good hygiene.
 
In Gurnee, Woodland District 50 Superintendent Joy Swoboda sent a letter Wednesday to middle school parents, saying a child at Woodland Middle School is being treated for MRSA and is expected back soon.
 
In Huntley, officials with Unit District 158 canceled after-school activities at the Reed Road campus Thursday to ensure custodians had enough time to thoroughly clean the buildings. One student at Martin Elementary School was diagnosed with the staph infection.
 
Lake County Health Department spokeswoman Leslie Piotrowski said local agencies aren't required to track individual MRSA cases, so it's unknown how many exist in the suburbs.
 
However, state health officials have proposed a rule change requiring health care providers to report three or more lab-confirmed cases during a two-week period to local health departments.
 
At the John G. Conyers Learning Academy in Rolling Meadows, one student was diagnosed with MRSA a few weeks ago. This week, when another student was infected, Palatine Township Elementary District 15 called in an eight-person crew to clean the school, said Assistant Superintendent James Garwood.
 
In Naperville, where two freshman football players were infected with MRSA earlier this month, five other students may be ill, school officials said Thursday.
 
In Indian Prairie Unit District 204, one student at Neuqua Valley Frontier campus has been diagnosed and is being treated; a second student, in the Prairie Children Preschool, was treated five weeks ago and was cleared to return to school.
 
In Naperville Unit District 203, where the football players play for Naperville North, three other students are being tested. District 203 has "super cleaned" all high school and junior high school locker rooms and Superintendent Alan Leis said the district is cleaning daily.
 
District 203 has been "staph infection central" since it announced it had two infected students.
 
"We now have a stampede of all the Chicago media on our doorstep," said Melea Smith, District 203 spokeswoman. Officials don't regret alerting parents, but at a recent meeting of school communication directors, Smith said she told them their turn may be next.
 
"I said to my fellow school PR people, it's in your district. It's there. You may or may not know about it, but it's there."
 
TOP OF PAGE
 
===========================================================================

NATIONAL

Sexual misconduct troubles U.S. schools
AP study finds 2,500 teachers punished in five years
By Martha Irvine & Robert Tanner, AP 10/21/07

EDITOR'S NOTE - The Associated Press has spent months digging through public records to document the problem in every state, revealing a disturbing national picture. This story is the first in a three-day series on an overlooked blight on our education system.

A young teacher in Iowa sheepishly admits that he fondled a fifth-grader's breast. But he doesn't lose his teaching license until one persistent victim and her family go public - 40 years after the first accusation.

A middle school teacher in Pennsylvania targets a young girl in his class and uses the guise of love to abuse her sexually.

A teacher in Michigan, who'd already lost his license in another state, goes to prison after he films himself molesting a boy.

These are only a few instances of a widespread problem in American schools: Sexual misconduct by the very teachers who are supposed to be nurturing the nation's children.

Students in America's schools are groped. They're raped. They're pursued, seduced and think they're in love.

An Associated Press investigation found more than 2,500 cases during five years in which educators were punished for actions from bizarre to sadistic.

There are 3 million public school teachers nationwide, nearly all devoted to their work. Yet the number of abusive educators, nearly three for every school day, speaks to a much larger problem in a system that is stacked against victims.

Most of the abuse never gets reported. Those cases reported often end with no action. Cases investigated sometimes can't be proven, and many abusers have several victims.

And no one - not the schools, not the courts, not the state or federal governments - has found a surefire way to keep molesting teachers out of classrooms.

Those are the AP's findings after reporters sought disciplinary records in all 50 states and the District of Columbia. The result is an unprecedented national look at the scope of sex offenses by educators - the very definition of breach of trust.The seven-month investigation found 2,570 educators whose teaching credentials were revoked, denied, voluntarily surrendered or limited from 2001 through 2005 following allegations of sexual misconduct.

Young people were the victims in at least 1,801 of the cases, and more than 80 percent of those were students. More than half the educators who were punished by their states also were convicted of crimes related to the misconduct.

The findings draw obvious comparisons to sex abuse scandals in other institutions, among them the Roman Catholic Church. A review by America's Catholic bishops found that about 4,400 of 110,000 priests were accused of molesting minors from 1950 through 2002.

Clergy abuse is part of the national consciousness after a string of highly publicized cases. But until now, there's been little sense of the extent of educator abuse.

Beyond the horror of individual crimes, the larger shame is the institutions that govern education have only sporadically addressed a problem that's been apparent for years.

"From my own experience - this could get me in trouble - I think every single school district in the nation has at least one perpetrator. At least one," says Mary Jo McGrath, a California lawyer who has spent 30 years investigating misconduct in schools. "It doesn't matter if it's urban or rural or suburban."

One victim wonders why there isn't more outrage.

"You're supposed to be able to send your kids to school knowing that they're going to be safe," says Jennah Bramow, a 20-year-old single mom and waitress in Cedar Rapids, Iowa.

While other victims accepted settlement deals and signed confidentiality agreements, she sued her city's schools for failing to protect her from accused teacher Gary C. Lindsey - and won.

The trial revealed that Lindsey had been forced out of his first teaching job in Oelwein, Iowa, in 1964, after admitting he'd fondled a fifth-grader's breast.

"I guess it was just lust of the flesh," Lindsey told his superintendent. He moved on to schools in Illinois and eventually settled in Cedar Rapids.

Now 68, Lindsey refused multiple requests for an interview. "It never occurs to you people that some people don't want their past opened back up," he said when an AP reporter asked him questions at his home outside Cedar Rapids.

That past, according to court evidence, included abuse accusations from a half-dozen more girls and their parents, along with reprimands from principals that were filed away, explained away and ultimately ignored until 1995, when allegations from Bramow and two other girls forced his early retirement.

Even then, he kept his teaching license until the Bramows filed a complaint with the state. He was never charged criminally.

Like Lindsey's, the cases that the AP found were those of everyday educators - teachers, school psychologists, principals and superintendents among them. They're often popular and recognized for excellence and, in nearly nine out of 10 cases, they're male. While some were accused of abusing students in school, others were cited for sexual misconduct after hours that didn't necessarily involve a kid from their classes.

The overwhelming majority of cases involved public school teachers, since many private schools don't require a teaching license. Even when they do, their disciplinary actions are not a matter of public record.

Two major teachers unions, the American Federation of Teachers and the National Education Association, each denounced sex abuse while emphasizing the need to consider educators' rights.

Kathy Buzad of the AFT said that "if there's one incident of sexual misconduct between a teacher and a student, that's one too many."

In practice, the AP found less vigilance.

The AP discovered efforts to stop individual offenders but, overall, a deeply entrenched resistance toward recognizing and fighting abuse. It starts in school hallways, where fellow teachers look away or feel powerless to help. School administrators make behind-the-scenes deals to avoid lawsuits and other trouble. And in state capitals and Congress, lawmakers shy from tough state punishments or any cohesive national policy for fear of disparaging a vital profession.

That only enables rogue teachers and puts kids who aren't likely to be believed in a tough spot.

Abuse also is treated with misplaced fascination in American culture.

"It's dealt with in a salacious manner with late-night comedians saying, 'What 14-year-old boy wouldn't want to have sex with his teacher?' It trivializes the whole issue," says Robert Shoop, a professor of educational administration at Kansas State University who wrote a book to help school districts deal with sexual misconduct.

"In other cases, it's reported as if this is some deviant who crawled into the school district - 'and now that they're gone, everything's OK.' But it's much more prevalent than people would think."

He and others who track the problem reiterated one point repeatedly during the AP investigation: Very few abusers get caught.

They point to academic studies estimating that only about one in 10 victimized children report sexual abuse of any kind to someone who can do something about it. When it is reported, teachers, administrators and some parents frequently don't - or won't - recognize the signs that a crime is taking place.

"They can't see what's in front of their face. Not unlike a kid in an alcoholic family, who'll say, 'My family is great,'" says McGrath, the California lawyer and investigator who now trains school systems how to recognize what she calls the "red flags" of misconduct.

In Hamburg, Pa., in 2002, those "red flags" should have been clear.

Heather Kline was skipping classes to spend time with Troy Mansfield, a popular football coach who'd first targeted her when she was in his third-grade class. He gave her gifts and rides in his car. She sat on his lap. The bond ran so deep that the student got chastised repeatedly - even suspended once for being late and absent so often. But there were no questions for the teacher, until the girl's mother got suspicious.

"I didn't have my childhood," says Kline, who's now 18 and hoping to get her GED so she can go to nursing school. "He had me so matured at so young. I remember going from little baby dolls to just being an adult."

Heather read Mansfield's e-mails and instant messages aloud at his 2004 criminal trial, from declarations of true love to explicit references to past sex. He's serving up to 31 years in state prison.

Elsewhere, there have been fitful steps toward catching errant teachers.

More states now require background checks on teachers, fingerprinting and mandatory reporting of abuse, though there is still a lack of coordination among districts and states.

U.S. Supreme Court rulings in the last 20 years on civil rights and sex discrimination have opened schools up to potentially huge financial punishments for abuses, driving some schools to act.

And the National Association of State Directors of Teacher Education and Certification keeps a list of educators who've been punished for any reason, but only shares the names among state agencies.

Another problem: Because teachers are often allowed to resign without losing their credentials, many never show up on the list.

"They might deal with it internally, suspending the person or having the person move on. So their license is never investigated," says Charol Shakeshaft, a leading expert in educator sex abuse who heads the educational leadership department at Virginia Commonwealth University.

It's a dynamic so common it has its own nicknames - "passing the trash" or the "mobile molester."

Aaron M. Brevik is one educator who fell through the cracks.

An elementary teacher in Warren, Mich., he was accused of using a camera hidden in a gym bag to secretly film boys in locker rooms and showers. He also faced charges that he recorded himself molesting a boy while the child slept.

Found guilty of criminal sexual conduct, Brevik is now serving a five- to 20-year prison sentence.

What Michigan officials apparently didn't know when they hired him was that Brevik's teaching license in Minnesota had been permanently suspended in 2001 after he allegedly invited two male minors to stay with him in a hotel room when he was a principal in southeastern Minnesota.

"I tell you what, they never go away," says Steve Janosko, a prosecutor in Ocean County, N.J., who's handled educator abuse cases. "They just blend a little better."

---------------

Findings of the study

Some of the major findings of a seven-month AP investigation into teacher sex abuse across the United States.

A total of 2,570 educators nationwide were punished for sexual misconduct from 2001-05, representing about a quarter of all educator misconduct cases in that time period.

The total number of times an action was taken against a teacher’s license for sexual misconduct was 2,625 (more than 50 teachers lost licenses in more than one state). Licenses were revoked in 1,636 of the cases; surrendered in 440 cases; suspended in 376 cases; and denied in 108 cases. Other punishments were handed out in the remainder of the cases.

Students were clearly identified as victims in at least 1,467 of the sexual misconduct cases. The victim was a young person, a category including students, unidentified youths, family members and neighbors, in at least 1,801 of the cases.

Educators made physical contact in at least 1,297, or 72 percent, of the cases in which the victims were youths. The remainder were cases that did not involve physical contact, including verbal sexual harassment and other offenses.

There were criminal convictions in at least 1,390, or 53 percent, of the cases.

Nearly nine out of 10 of the educators punished for sexual misconduct were male.

At least 446 of the cases that the AP found involved educators who had multiple victims.
 
TOP OF PAGE

Family, town scarred by teacher’s sexual abuse
By Martha Irvine, AP, 10/22/07

EDITOR'S NOTE - The Associated Press has spent months digging through public records to document the problem in every state, revealing a disturbing national picture. This story is the second in a three-day series on an overlooked blight on our education system.

BERWYN, IL — They’ve learned to watch their older daughter for any sign that something’s wrong.

She cuts her long, blond hair and dyes it jet black. And they worry.

Her father picks up a book she’s been reading, “The Road” by Cormac McCarthy, and skims it for clues.

He notices a highlighted passage: “You forget some things, don’t you,” it reads. “Yes. You forget what you want to remember and you remember what you want to forget.”

Her parents can relate. There’s a lot they’d like to forget, too — especially since the day nearly three years ago when their then 15-year-old daughter told them her elementary school band teacher had molested her and other girls.

The teacher, Robert Sperlik Jr., pleaded guilty last year to sexual abuse and kidnapping of more than 20 girls, some as young as 9. Among other things, he told prosecutors that he put rags in the girls’ mouths, taped them shut and also bound their hands and feet with duct tape and rope for his own sexual stimulation.

He pretended it was a game, gave the girls candy and told them not to tell.

And for a long time, none of them did.

Though experts who deal with sexual abuse say victims tell the truth more often than not, the ordeal is often worsened when the community around them is drawn in and people take sides. Often, victims and their families face uncooperative administrators, disbelieving neighbors and an agonizing legal journey.

This family in Berwyn, a suburb west of Chicago, understands the emotional toll.

“It’s a silent epidemic is what it is,” the girl’s father says. “People are protecting people who aren’t worth protecting. I hope our daughters will have that instilled in them, too — that you report what you know.”

The couple — a telecommunications technician and a stay-at-home mom — spoke on the condition that they and their daughter not be identified, so she can try to move on from the nightmare that began in the late 1990s.

But they want to share their story to encourage anyone being abused by an educator to come forward. They also hope school officials will do more to get abusive teachers out of classrooms.

“I thought my children were safest in school,” the girl’s mother says. “I don’t trust anybody now.”

Her daughter was a fourth-grader at Pershing Elementary School when Sperlik began teaching her how to play the clarinet.

She liked him. He said nice things about her and played funny games during class, including letting them draw lips on duct tape and put it on their mouths.

Eventually, though, she and two of her friends started to feel uncomfortable with what they described as increasingly creepy behavior.

After attending a school seminar about inappropriate touching in 2001, they wrote a note to the woman who spoke to them.

He “rubs our leg sometimes, rubs our back to feel for a bra,” the girl — then age 11 — wrote for herself and her friends. “He comments (to) me about my hair and how nice it looks when it’s down, comments to (another female student) on how she dresses and that she should be a model.”

“We are afraid to tell our parents,” they continued in the note, which made its way to Karen Grindle, the principal at Pershing.

Grindle, according to court documents, spoke to the children individually and to some of their parents — though she didn’t show the letter to the parents. She told them that their daughters felt uncomfortable with the band teacher — that she had spoken to Sperlik, and he explained that he was only correcting their posture and tapping them on the knee to help them keep a beat.

The parents felt reassured.

Later in court, however, the girls claimed they had privately told Grindle that Sperlik touched them in their groin area. Grindle insisted that never happened.

Given her findings, she made no report to the authorities, but did tell Sperlik not to touch his students for any reason.

William Jordan, the district’s superintendent at the time of the abuse, also said he could not comment, citing the victims’ civil suit against him, other school officials and Sperlik.

“It’s important to look at what the school failed to do,” says Mark Loevy-Reyes, a Chicago attorney who represents some of the families, including the one profiled in this story. “I think it’s easy for school districts to turn a blind eye to it unless they know they can be held accountable.”

When her parents initially asked their daughter in 2001 to tell them what happened, she didn’t want to talk about it. So they stopped asking.

Four years later, she overheard a conversation her mom was having with her younger sister, an eighth-grader whose neighbor friend had been dancing provocatively in front of adults.

Her mother explained that it wasn’t appropriate. And when the younger daughter protested the lecture, her older sister had to say something.

“You know what, you need to listen to Mom because of what happened to me with that weirdo band teacher,” the elder daughter said, opening the door to her long-kept secret.

It was the first time her mother heard anything about duct tape.

“This is not your fault,” her mom said, as tears streamed down both of their faces. “I never knew. I didn’t know.”

The family went to police and, as more young women came forward, they found evidence of a long-standing pattern of abuse.

Some in the community didn’t want to believe it.

To them, Sperlik was an awkward but generally well-liked bachelor and accomplished drummer who often related to his students better than other adults.

Some parents knew that he and older band students duct taped one another. But they thought it was a prank.

“He’s obviously disturbed. Now I could see that these weren’t innocent (duct) taping things. I could see that he was getting sexual gratification out of that, which is terrible and should not have been allowed,” says Michelle Nafziger, a mother who went to high school with Sperlik — and whose five children also had him for band.

“But I don’t know — it left us all feeling really weird.”

Dominic Tarullo, a parent whose four children had Sperlik for band, thinks Berwyn’s history of political corruption somehow played a role in getting Sperlik to accept a 20-year plea deal without a fight.

“I just cannot imagine that he was abusing kids,” he says.

He’s not alone.

Immediately after news of Sperlik’s arrest hit in January 2005, people began questioning the girls’ motives: Why didn’t they come forward sooner? Were they really telling the truth?

It was almost too much for the girl, who never anticipated such harsh public scrutiny.

For a time, she was cutting herself on her arms and ankles — a ritual that is often associated with victims of sexual abuse. Her parents also had her admitted to a psychiatric hospital after she took sleeping pills last year.

“I just can’t take it anymore,” she wrote in a note to her parents.

After she came home, they found a counselor who specializes in sexual abuse.

It’s been helping, they say. And in the spring, their daughter graduated from a private high school and is starting college in central Illinois and a new chapter away from her troubles in Berwyn.

She’s also let her hair grow out and no longer dyes it black.

For the first time in a long time, her parents are hopeful — though nagging guilt and anger persist.

Her mother still has dreams about going to the school to confront the principal about why more wasn’t done.

Her father thinks about the day his daughter marries and has kids of her own — how he’ll have to resist the urge to park outside her house to watch over them.

“Our kids were like babies still. That’s what makes it so hard because they were so innocent,” he says.

He rubs his face, as his eyes well up.

“All these kids — I feel sorry for all of them, not just my own.

“We’re not the only ones suffering in this. There’s a lot of people suffering in this.”

TOP OF PAGE

Gaps remain in laws protecting students
By Robert Tanner, AP, 10/23/07

EDITOR’S NOTE — In the final installment of a three-day series on sexual misconduct by teachers in America’s schools, the AP examines how a lack of decisive intervention in schools and legislatures allows abusers to keep operating.

Every school has rules governing teachers’ behavior. Every state has laws against child abuse, and many specifically outlaw teachers taking sexual liberties with students. Every district has administrators who watch out for sexual misconduct by teachers.


Yet people like Chad Maughan stay in the classroom.

Maughan got in trouble twice for viewing pornography at schools in Washington state but was allowed to keep teaching. Within two years, he was convicted of raping a 14-year-old girl in his school.

Legal loopholes, fear of lawsuits and inattention all have weakened the safeguards that are supposed to protect children in school. The system fails hundreds of kids each year, an AP investigation found. It undoubtedly fails many more whose offenders go free.

State efforts to strengthen laws against sex abuse by teachers have run into opposition from school boards and teachers unions. In Congress, a measure that would train investigators and create a national registry of offenders hasn’t even gotten a hearing. Few leaders recognize — let alone attack — a national shame.

“Instead of ignoring it or fighting it, why don’t you get ahead of it?” asks Ted Thompson, executive director of the National Association to Prevent Sexual Abuse of Children.

An Associated Press investigation identified 2,570 cases from 2001 to 2005 in which teachers were punished or removed from the classroom for sexual misconduct. The allegations ranged from fondling to rape. Reporters in all 50 states and the District of Columbia gathered the cases from state agencies with responsibility for teacher licensing.

Even accounting for population differences, states vary widely on how many teachers they discipline and how rigorously, the investigation showed. That reflects the patchwork nature of the laws and rules that aim to protect schoolchildren. Each state takes its own approach to background checks, fingerprinting and reporting abuse.

While states have taken halting steps toward accountability in recent years after decades of widespread neglect, there are still many gaps.

Some states check fingerprints against records only in their own states, not the FBI databases, so they miss offenders from other states. Others only check for violations when teachers are newly hired, missing veteran teachers who have run afoul of the law since they were first hired.

“You can fingerprint them all you want and nothing’s going to come up,” says John Seryak, a longtime Ohio middle school teacher who now trains teachers to spot when a colleague is abusing kids.

School systems also have made an attempt at weeding out wrongdoers. For the past 20 years, educators have shared information with other states about teachers who’ve run into administrative trouble.

The National Association of State Directors of Teacher Education and Certification created the list, and Roy Einreinhofer, its executive director, says protecting children is one of the group’s top goals.

But the list has its flaws.

It only provides identifying information such as names, birth dates and Social Security numbers, nothing describing a teacher’s past problems, leaving it up to a state agency or a hiring school district to dig deeper. Also, the list is not publicly available.

“There are some liability issues involved there,” Einreinhofer says. “It just serves as a flag saying you need to check this person further.”

Created in 1987, the list contains names of some 37,000 teachers who have had license problems, which includes all misbehavior, not just sexual.

Similar piecemeal efforts have often run into resistance, from lawmakers reluctant to tackle the subject, from teacher unions concerned with privacy and due process, and from school boards worried about court fights.

In Washington state, Maughan’s case led to a law that clarified the definition of sexual misconduct and required school districts to share information.

Maughan had been suspended from one job for looking at pornography on school computers, but the district said only that he had used “poor judgment.” At the second job, he was reprimanded for viewing pornography, and told administrators he had an addiction and was getting counseling.

In 2005, school employees found a paper bag containing a 14-year-old girl’s red lace underwear and a sexually explicit note from her to Maughan. The teacher pleaded guilty to rape.

State Sen. Don Benton, who fought for the law that followed the arrest, said “we had tremendous resistance from the teachers union when it came to personnel files.

“We have to tell school districts, ‘Look, you have a duty and a responsibility. As parents we are entrusting you with our children to take extra steps to ensure that the people you hire are safe.’”

In Minnesota, the state school board association — allied with two church groups — has lobbied against a bill that would give victims of child sex abuse more time to bring civil claims. Schools, like churches, could be held liable if they failed to stop abuse that they should have known about.

“Schools have nothing to fear unless they either actively participated or covered up grave misconduct,” says House Majority Leader Steve Simon, a Democrat pushing the measure.

Some union officials argue that the dangers are overstated.

“We’re turning some of this now into a modern-day witch hunt and making it very difficult for teachers to have to say, ‘I’m not one of those.’ It’s the wrong signal to send,” says Steve Monaghan, president of the Louisiana Federation of Teachers. His state this spring declared it a crime punishable by up to six months imprisonment for a teacher to have sex with a student even if he or she is above the age of consent.

Advocates argue what’s needed is a coordinated, national approach. But there has been virtually no momentum there.

A report ordered by Congress and released in 2004 examined previous studies and surveys of teacher sexual misconduct and sent a troubling message. It estimated that some 4.5 million students out of 50 million in American public schools “are subject to sexual misconduct by an employee of a school sometime between kindergarten and 12th grade.”

But that report, compiled by leading expert Charol Shakeshaft, head of the educational leadership department at Virginia Commonwealth University, was largely ignored.

This year, U.S. Rep. Adam Putnam, a Florida Republican, proposed legislation to create a national public registry of convicted offenders in schools, better training of investigators and a national hot line for reports of sexual abuse in school.

It still hasn’t received a hearing.

“It clearly is a problem, and it appears to be growing,” Putnam says, yet he is dismayed by the lack of concern. “You’d think the teachers association, the school boards, the principals — you’d think all of them would be on board to protect children.”

Those who have fought for years to try to raise awareness of the issue see incremental gains, and the AP analysis found a steady increase in teachers removed from the classroom from 2001 to 2005. But advocates are despairing, not satisfied.

“We are mandated to send our children to school. Yet our schools are not being mandated to keep our children safe,” says Terri Miller, president of SESAME Inc., which stands for Stop Educator Sexual Abuse, Misconduct and Exploitation. “That is a horrendous problem, and that needs to be fixed.”

She shares Putnam’s enthusiasm for a new national registry and hopes for federal leadership that would force states to make their laws more uniform.

Others emphasize training as the best way to prevent abuse.

Some newly minted teachers graduate from college, have sex with a student and then say “What’s wrong with that?” says Einreinhofer, at the national teacher certification group.

And more training is needed at the nation’s public schools themselves.

For the past year in Rhinebeck, N.Y., administrators, teachers, students and parents have gone through a series of programs to recognize problem signs — teachers who get too personal with students, who “groom” students vulnerable to abuse, who test the boundaries by an inappropriate comment or touch.

The school community has been remarkably engaged and committed, says Bill Berard, the lawyer who taught the lessons.

Yet the training came as punishment. It was ordered as part of the settlement of a federal civil rights lawsuit, after former Rhinebeck High School Principal Thomas Mawhinney was accused of sexually harassing female students for years.

It often takes such scandals to inspire changes.

The AP investigation raised questions about an abusive teacher in Virginia who got a new job after being suspended for sexually abusing three girls. He molested two female students at the next school before the state finally acted on the earlier trouble and revoked his license.

The nation needs to change its attitude toward teacher sexual misconduct, and child abuse overall, much in the way it changed its perspective about drunken driving in the last 25 years, Thompson says.

“Societally, we have a problem,” says Mary Jo McGrath, a California attorney who has worked on teacher sexual abuse cases for three decades. “Our inability to think that kids might be in danger, our inability to think that the nicest teacher on the block might be an offender — those things keep us uneducated. I’m passionate that people wake up.”

--------------------------------------------------------------------------------
Warning signs of sexual misconduct
The Associated Press

There are no simple rules for determining if your child is the subject of inappropriate sexual attention from a teacher. It is not always easy to distinguish between an encouraging teacher and someone who is pushing the boundaries of acceptable behavior. Predators work hard to groom children so they don’t tell anyone.

While most educators are dedicated professionals, investigators and academic experts who’ve studied teacher sexual misconduct say there are some warning signs that should make you pay more attention and take action.

Their main suggestion: Talk to your child. Make sure she or he feels comfortable telling you if a teacher, or anyone, has said or done something that makes them uncomfortable. Be a good listener.

Other suggestions:

Communication between teacher and student. Monitor e-mails, text messages, phone calls, Internet social networking and blogs, greeting cards and yearbooks. A teacher’s communications should be about school, not the child’s personal life.

Time together. After-school activities should be encouraged, but be aware of time spent with a teacher and what goes on. If it’s a pizza party with a teacher, a dozen kids and a parent should be there, one expert says. There should be no out-of-school, one-on-one meetings.

Gifts or car rides. Most experts say teachers should not be giving gifts to individual students or car rides, except for emergencies.

How your child and their friends talk about teachers. If they say a teacher is a “friend,” find out more. If they joke or mention rumors about a teacher’s crush, or that a teacher is a “perv,” don’t dismiss it. Ask why they say that.

Abusive or sexual behavior. If your child tells you that a teacher made a sexual joke, brushed up against her, discussed sex, or requested a kiss or a date, find out more. Bring it to the attention of school authorities and the police.

Question your child if you suspect abuse. Try to stay calm. Children have a hard time differentiating between your disapproval of an adult’s behavior and your disapproval of them. Try not to ask leading questions like “Did he touch your thigh?”

Don’t keep it to yourself. If you’re suspicious, talk to school authorities. They can question other teachers and students. Follow up and make sure school officials take action.

If the behavior indicates a crime or school authorities don’t take you seriously, contact police.
 
TOP OF PAGE

Health survey: Schools are shaping up
Students get more gym, less junk food
Kevin Sack, New York Times
 
ATLANTA - Spurred by the growing crisis in child obesity, the nation's schools have made "considerable improvements" in nutrition, fitness and health over the last six years, according to a new government survey that found that more schools require physical education and fewer sell french fries.
 
The survey, which is conducted every six years, shows that more schools offer salads and vegetables and that fewer permit bake sales. More states and school districts insist that elementary schools schedule recess and that physical-education teachers have at least undergraduate training. More states have enacted policies to prohibit smoking at school and to require courses on pregnancy prevention.
 
Perhaps most striking, 30 percent of school districts have banned junk food from their vending machines, up from 4 percent in 2000. Schools offering fried potatoes in their cafeterias declined, to 19 percent from 40 percent.
 
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention survey elicited cheers Friday from public health and education officials, as well as warnings against complacency.
 
In some instances, the officials pointed out that progress toward healthier living and learning was notable only because so many schools had started from such low points.
 
The percentage of districts that require elementary schools to teach physical education increased, to 93 percent last year from 83 percent in 2000.
 
But just 4 percent of elementary schools, 8 percent of middle schools and 2 percent of high schools provided physical education each school day, as is recommended by the federal disease control agency. One-fifth of schools did not require physical education at all.
 
Although the researchers found that the proportion of schools selling bottled water grew, to 46 percent from 30 percent, they also said three-fourths of high schools sold soft drinks and that 61 percent sold potato chips and other high-fat snacks.
 
"What we're seeing is that the nation's schools really are making progress in addressing the obesity crisis and teenage tobacco use," said Howell Wechsler, the director of the division of adolescent and school health at the CDC and an author of the study.


"But large numbers of schools are still not implementing recommended policies. We need all the nation's schools to have environments that make it easy for children to make healthy choices," he said.
 
In some instances, Wechsler said, states set policies that districts and schools do not immediately embrace, particularly when mandating physical activity.
 
"It takes a while for the policies to go down," he said. "Local school districts just haven't been able to figure out how to make time for physical education in the school day."
 
The overall picture, however, suggests a nationwide response by school administrators and elected officials to concerns about children's weight and inactivity.
 
A recent national survey determined that 17 percent of children ages 2 to 19 could be classified as overweight. The prevalence of overweight children for all age groups is nearly double that of a decade ago.
  
TOP OF PAGE

In Consolidating Districts, States Run Tricky Course To Secure Local Support
Tax and funding worries often top list of concerns.
Katie Ash, Education Week
 
With their state education budgets under pressure and their rural enrollment numbers dropping, legislators in several states—including Maine, South Dakota, and Arizona—are moving ahead with school district consolidation plans to help shave costs and establish more efficient school districts.
 
But now that reorganization is under way, those states are dealing with complications over funding, resistance from residents, and criticism that the plans may not save as much money as promised.
 
In Maine, which is in the middle of a massive school consolidation effort, some school districts are concerned about receiving less money in subsidies from the state after they merge with neighboring districts. Other districts are worried that consolidation may result in increased property taxes.
 
In South Dakota, parents and school officials are waiting to see how their schools will fare under a new law passed last year requiring districts, with some exceptions, to have at least 100 students or to merge with a neighboring district after two years of low enrollment.
 
And in Arizona, despite reassurances that no schools would close, school boards are criticizing the recommendations of a redistricting commission that would unify many of the elementary and high school districts across the state. Such complaints do not surprise Marty Strange, the policy director for the Arlington, Va.-based Rural School and Community Trust.
 
“Wherever state budgets are tight, and they’re looking for ways to save money on school aid, [states] immediately turn to the idea of closing small schools or districts,” he said. States often expect to economize by cutting down on the number of administrators. But in Mr. Strange’s view, “school and district consolidations rarely make money; they redirect money.”
 
Maine Plunges Ahead

Maine’s consolidation plan, projected to save the state $250 million over three years, requires each district with fewer than 1,200 students to merge with a neighboring district, with the aim of bringing Maine’s 290 far-flung districts down to 80 large ones.
 
Districts have submitted merger proposals to Susan A. Gendron, the state education commissioner, and those plans have been approved or sent back with revisions. Districts will be expected to submit final plans by Dec. 1. ("Maine Districts Take Key Step to Consolidation," Sept. 12, 2007.)
 
But new numbers calculated by Maine districts suggest that consolidation might not save money, and that districts may receive less state aid money after they merge.
 
“Because of the complexities and different units doing budgets differently, the analysis needs to be redone,” said David Connerty-Marin, the spokesman for the Maine Department of Education. “There are a handful of places where, in fact, there are some real barriers.”
 
One unforeseen snag is the amount of the subsidy each district receives from the state, said Mr. Connerty-Marin. Currently, each district receives a different amount, based on a complex school funding formula, which takes into account factors such as property values and the number of special education students.
 
In addition, every district receives at least a minimum subsidy amount—the greater amount of either 5 percent of its total education budget or 84 percent of its special education budget.
 
But once districts merge, the school funding formula will be readjusted, and some educators are worried that a newly combined district would receive less, overall, than the individual districts did before the merger.
 
Another concern involves the state’s existing requirement that districts raise a certain amount of money for education through property taxes. This year, for example, each district is supposed to raise $7.44 for every thousand dollars in property value for education.
 
In some districts with extremely high property values, however, that rate may be adjusted lower to prevent a surplus of education funding. In some areas where property values are high—and the education tax level lower than the state target—residents worry that their rates would go up if they were to merge with a district with lower property values. Some even say it may be more cost-effective for residents to pay the penalty stipulated by the law for not merging.
 
“We don’t know what the solution will be, but we’ll be working with the legislature to resolve it,” Mr. Connerty-Marin said.
 
Despite the recent tangles, Gov. John E. Baldacci, who was behind the consolidation plan, remains firmly committed.
 
“I will vigorously oppose any effort to repeal this law or to lessen the penalties for districts that don’t comply,” the Democratic governor said in a statement last month.
 
South Dakota Struggles

South Dakota, meanwhile, has determined that each school district must have at least 100 students to be considered effective and efficient, and has passed a law to enforce it. ("Funding Level Divides Legislators, Districts," June 13, 2007.)
 
“There was growing concern on the part of the legislature that students [in small districts] weren’t getting as many educational opportunities as students in larger districts,” said Rick Melmer, South Dakota’s secretary of education.
 
Under the new law, passed in the 2007 legislative session, a district that has an enrollment of fewer than 100 students for two years in a row is expected to partner with a nearby district. If not, the state school board has the authority to do it for them. But the law affects only districts that are not considered “sparse”—that is, at least 15 miles away from the nearest district.
 
So far, no districts have merged. The two-year population count starts during the 2007-08 school year, and districts are expected to merge by July 1, 2009, if they do not meet the required enrollment.
 
Out of the state’s 168 districts, officials predict that only 14 will be affected, but that number could grow. Because of declining enrollments, districts on the cusp also are feeling pressure.
 
Although state lawmakers are not currently looking at increasing the required minimum enrollment, they may in the future, although Mr. Melmer does not expect them to do so.
 
Arizona Moves Slowly

In Arizona, a 13-member School District Redistricting Commission is exploring ways to put a 2005 law calling for the unification of districts in place.
 
Arizona’s 216 school districts now are divided into three categories: Some have only K-8 schools, some include only high schools, and some serve students from kindergarten through 12th grade. The new law seeks to pair up some of the K-8 and high school districts into unified districts.
 
“This is not consolidation, it’s unification,” said Art Harding, the deputy associate superintendent of state government affairs for the Arizona Department of Education and a member of the redistricting commission.
 
“My idea, and [state schools Superintendent] Tom Horne’s idea, is to create a continual curriculum from K-12, that you can build upon what you’re teaching in the early grades all the up through high school,” he said. “When they’re separated, you don’t have that connection.”
 
The commission recently gave its recommendations to the affected districts and is now going through the responses. Its final plan will be submitted by Dec. 31, and the proposals will appear on the ballot for voters in those communities in the November 2008 elections.
 
Although Mr. Harding stressed the curricular advantages of unifying elementary and high school districts, he also said there could be economic advantages.
 
“There’s an efficiency of scale to be looked at,” he said. “We’re potentially able to reduce two full administrations and put that money back into the classroom.”
 
New Moves in Nebraska?

Faced with a similar situation last year, Nebraska shut down its elementary-only, or Class I, districts. Those students have since been merged into larger K-12 districts, but supporters of small schools are lobbying for the reinstatement of those districts.
 
The law that called for the dissolution of the Class I districts passed in 2005, but was repealed by voters last fall. Since then however, no action has been taken to reinstate the districts. ("Neb. Judge Halts School Merger Law," Nov. 30, 2005.)
 
Last spring, a bill that would have provided a framework for the re-creation of Class I districts passed the legislature, but was vetoed by Gov. Dave Heinemen, a Republican, on the grounds that it would not bring the districts back easily enough.
 
“The process was cumbersome, and there were lots of obstacles,” said Mike Nolles, the president of Class Ones United, an advocacy organization for the reinstatement of Class I districts. The bill required reinstatement to be approved by a K-12 district’s school board, Mr. Nolles said.
 
The issue will be up for debate again when the legislature reconvenes in January.
 
TOP OF PAGE

On the road for excellence
By Lynn Thompson, Seattle Times, 10/24/07
 
Highlights of the past year?

Well, the Rose Garden introduction by President Bush and first lady Laura Bush in April has to rank near the top. The NASA space camp with the other state teachers of the year was amazing. Then there was the 10,000-strong National Education Association convention in Philadelphia on the Fourth of July with a surprise appearance by a former student.

And next month, Andrea Peterson, the music teacher from Granite Falls who in April was named National Teacher of the Year, travels to Japan for 10 days to talk with the Ministry of Education and visit an all-girls art school, among other sites on her itinerary.

"They've got quite the tour ready for me," she said, sounding only a little dazed last week before one of her more low-key stops, a speech to the Washington Alliance for Arts Education in Seattle.

Halfway through her year as the nation's leading ambassador for the teaching profession, Peterson has already visited 30 states. By the end of her tenure in May, she estimates she will have addressed more than 150 audiences, ranging from top CEOs to the national PTA to the Granite Falls/Lake Stevens Rotary.

Nerves haven't been a problem. A gifted musician who plays several instruments, she has had years of experience performing before audiences, leading school orchestras and choirs and speaking to gymnasiums full of families with restless siblings in tow.

At the heart of each speech, she said, is her message on the importance of community to education and on the ability of excellent teachers to inspire excellence in their students.

Last week, before the arts educators, she told the teachers what she acknowledged they already knew — how some unengaged, low-performing students have been transformed through artistic expression and a teacher who got to know them and called forth their best work.

Peterson recalled a fourth-grade girl who was a talented musician but couldn't read music and performed below grade level in every subject. Challenged to learn to read music in class, the student stretched intellectually and glimpsed her own potential.

"As soon as she learned to read music, everything else fell into place," Peterson told the arts educators. "She's now on the honor roll, in student government. Her confidence and self-esteem grew."

Peterson also has picked up talking points from her hosts. At a meeting of the Conference Board, a national business-leaders organization, she learned that the qualities employers say are most lacking in high-school graduates are leadership, concentration, teamwork, a strong work ethic and critical-thinking skills.

Referring again to her fourth-grade student in Granite Falls, Peterson told the arts educators, "she learned a strong work ethic in an elementary-school music class."

Peterson is frequently asked about the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB), with its mandates for standardized testing and penalties for failing schools. She said there's no question the act has raised teachers' expectations of all students.

But she said she also knows first-hand that students with daunting barriers to learning may make tremendous strides toward standards and still be judged as failing under NCLB.

"My fear is the student with great success and amazing achievement who still sees himself as a failure," she said.

At her speaking engagements, Peterson also tells the story of arriving in Granite Falls as a rookie music teacher and finding only a handful of working instruments and no music program.

When the strapped school district wasn't able to fund the program to the extent she envisioned, she turned to the community to ask for support.

Today, the district of 2,400 students boasts two auditioned elementary choirs, an auditioned high-school chorus, a jazz band and marching band and musical performances that incorporate students' work in language arts, social-studies and history classes.

Peterson urges her audiences to embrace their schools in the same way Granite Falls embraced theirs.

"Our children are our great masterpiece waiting to be presented to the audience. We all need to show up," she said.
 
TOP OF PAGE

4 shot at middle school football game
David Eggert, AP
 
SAGINAW, Mich. -- Gunfire erupted during halftime at a middle school football game on Wednesday afternoon, wounding two teenagers and two adults, police said.
 
A 16-year-old boy was shot in the neck, Detective Sgt. Brent Vanderhaar said. The three others were treated and released, some after being grazed by bullets.
 
Police late Wednesday were questioning one person whom Vanderhaar described as a "person of interest." The investigator would not say whether the person had been arrested and gave no other details.
 
Vanderhaar would not say whether the boy had been targeted by the shooter, but did say the other victims apparently were innocent bystanders walking from the game.
 
No arrests had been made, but police had one person in custody being questioned as a "person of interest," Vanderhaar said.
 
The injured teenagers were not students at South Middle School, where the shootings took place about 5:15 p.m. The other victims were an adult male and an adult female, Vanderhaar said. He declined to provide more details.
 
About 100 people were attending the game when the shooting erupted a short distance from the school's football field, where the team was playing Central Middle School, Vanderhaar said.
 
Safiya Mosley, a Saginaw Public Schools spokeswoman, said players and spectators were moved toward the center of the football field immediately after the shootings. They were allowed to leave after police indicated the situation was under control.
 
Classes were to be held Thursday at the middle school under stepped-up security, Mosley said. Crisis counselors would be available to students needing them, she said.
 
"Things that go on in the community sometimes has effects in the schools," Mosley said. "It's going to take the community as a whole to fix it."
 
TOP OF PAGE

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

NATIONAL - NCLB

Schools chief unhappy with federal standards
By Susan Randall, Casa Grande Valley Dispatch Staff Writer, 10/20/07

Tom Horne, state superintendent of public instruction, would like some changes to No Child Left Behind. 

"I think that it is a very bad architecture for judging schools," Horne s aid during a visit this week to the Casa Grande area.
 
No Child Left Behind is a federal law that was signed in January 2002, designed to improve public schools by increasing the accountability of states, school districts and schools. It is up for reauthorization this year.

Horne said he strongly supports accountability for schools. It is important to have high standards, to test those standards and to hold people accountable.

Arizona's system for evaluating schools, Arizona Learns, does that, he said, and in a way that is fair, accurate and comprehensive.

"With No Child Left Behind, that's not true," he said. "The system is very unfair."

NCLB divides children into nine subgroups by race and other characteristics, like special education and English language proficiency. It tests two subjects in seven grades, measuring proficiency and whether at least 95 percent in each subgroup take the test.

So if 94 percent of fourth-grade special-education students take the test instead of 95, the whole school fails.

"By the time you get done, there are 256 ways for a school to fail," Horne said. "And if they succeed spectacularly on 255 and fall short on one, the whole school fails. So it is very unfair."

English language

It is especially unfair for certain subgroups, he said. Most English language learners need about a year to learn enough English to be able to learn in English. Then they need another two years before they can pass an academic test in English.

"So in Arizona Learns we give the schools three years to get them proficient on their academic tests. No Child Left Behind says they have to get proficient in one year."

Many of the officials in the U.S. Department of Education come from Texas, where the schools test in Spanish, he said.

Arizona cannot test in Spanish. Voters passed an English-only schools initiative in November 2000.

"A subgroup doesn't count unless you have at least 40 kids in one grade," Horne said. "So if a school has more than 40 kids in one grade that are English language learners, they cannot make 'adequate yearly progress' no matter how good a school they are.


"And I know some excellent schools where the teachers' morale is down because they can't make 'adequate yearly progress.' So it is totally dysfunctional."

Horne said he had an agreement with the U.S. Department of Education to give English language learners in Arizona three years before they had to test in English.

"Then when the new secretary took over, Margaret Spellings, she reneged on the agreement that (former U.S. secretary of education) Rod Paige gave me. So I have a lawsuit against them."

A judge ruled that Arizona had to appeal to the department before the suit can be heard in court.

" It's been before the secretary for a couple of months now, and we are ready to go to court and say that, in effect, she has denied it by not acting on it. One of the techniques that the federal government uses is to delay you. We are going to ask the court to not let them do that delay."

Special education

Special education is another area where NCLB is not fair, Horne said. The federal government will not allow special-education students to be tested outside their grade level. So a high school student in special ed who reads at the fourth-grade level still has to take the high school reading test.

"It's crazy," Horne said. "You have kids who are looking at a test. They have no idea what they are looking at. It's a form of child abuse.

"Only an out-of-touch centralized government would do something like that," he added.

Arizona also has asked the federal government to allow it to reclassify as a standard accommodation the use of calculators by children who can do higher math but have short-term memory loss and cannot do arithmetic.

"We even have a scientific study to back that up," Horne said. "But in the meantime, there are new special-ed rules that say that special-ed kids cannot be given accommodations on a test that invalidate the test."

Graduation rate

How the graduation rate is calculated is another problem, Horne said. NCLB only counts students who graduate in four years.

"Well, there are kids that need an extra year," Horne said. "Some of them enter into charter schools that specialize in kids that have dropped out and are behind. Some kinds, like English language learners may need a fifth year. The school might be doing a great job with these kids, but the federal government punishes them because it will only count a four-year graduation rate."

NCLB does not even count students who graduate in the summer of their senior year.

An accountability system should reward schools that are doing well, Horne said, and identify schools that need help.

"But when you start punishing schools that are doing a good job, because of factors outside their control, it's totally dysfunctional, and it undermines the credibility of that accountability system.

"I urge people: Don't look at the No Child Left Behind system of 'adequate yearly progress.' To judge your school, go to our Web site, azed.gov and look up your school under "Report Cards."

"It will say 'underperforming,' 'performing,' 'highly performing' or 'excelling.' Those are fair, accurate and comprehensive views of the schools."

Arizona Learns takes a comprehensive look at each school, Horne said.

"We look at the percentage of students that are proficient. We look at the degree to which the school has improved from year to year. We look at the degree to which the students have improved - we call that the measure of academic progress." 

TOP OF PAGE

Why do we put up with AYP and NCLB?
Government's unreasonable standards create unnecessary problems for Blair
Commentary by Kevin Teng, Silver Chips Online Online Staff Writer, 10/20/07

In an attempt to save the country's floundering education system, the federal government enacted the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB) in 2001 to set minimum standards for student proficiency in reading and mathematics. Under NCLB, Blair has failed to meet Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP) standards for two years in a row. However, all of the fault for the failure should not be heaped on Blair alone. The government's methods to help schools meet the standards disregard differences in the way education is run in states and impose unreasonable constraints on state governments.
 
For the second time, Blair has failed to meet AYP two years in a row (the first was in 2003 and 2004). The school failed to meet AYP in the reading category among Special Education students in 2006 and Limited English Proficient students in 2007, a double failure that has major implications for the future: if Blair is still not able to make AYP for a few more years in a row, the state government will restructure the school.

But the roots of Blair's problems stem from the beginning of NCLB. When the federal government initiated programs designed to ensure that state education systems meet NCLB's standards, it provided state governments with little assistance. States were expected to carry the burden of creating fair tests and curricula to conform to national standards. Districts also differ in implementing state regulations – they have to in order to suit local needs. The bureaucracy leaves plenty of room for variation among districts as well as states.

Such variation gives some students an advantage over others. The Missouri State Board of Education, for example, intentionally lowered the standards for measuring proficiency in January 2006, making it easier for its schools to meet AYP. States that have a lower number of people meeting proficiency are given lower standards. Blair is subjected to higher standards, since schools in Maryland are slightly above the national average in proficiency, according to the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), the only comparable nationwide assessment of students.

Additionally, NCLB requires that students be grouped into eight categories. Five of these are based on race and the other three group students into those who are in special education programs, who receive meal subsidies and who have limited proficiency in English. This federal mandated grouping does not allow for states and school districts to sort their students based on their own area's diversity, thus creating more problems – Blair is quite diverse.

According to NCLB's rules, when one group in a school is unable to make AYP, the entire school fails to meet AYP. Blair as a whole has not failed AYP – only certain subgroups. "It's kind of a mixed bag. It's good that it makes it noticed, but bad that it puts the blame on one group," Joseph Bellino, ESOL Resource Teacher, says.

NCLB fails to recognize that in order for groups to be proficient, they require special attention from instructors and administrators. It is unreasonable to fail an entire school if nearly all the groups are making AYP. The same attention to underperforming groups can be established without putting blame on one group or the entire school – absolve the groups when assessing the school as a whole.

Currently, the Limited English Proficient group at Blair is under a predicament. Of the 44 ESOL students who took the test that are still taking ESOL, only four passed the English High School Assessment (HSA). The test, designed for tenth graders, is currently taken by students who are still learning English.

"It takes five to ten years for a foreign student to compete with native speaking students," Bellino says. "The test should be taken by former ESOL students, but current ESOL students also take the test." Students who are just immigrating to the United States simply cannot be expected to pass a test designed for students with English as their first language.

There is hope that Maryland will change regulations for meeting AYP so that Blair has a better chance of meeting NCLB standards, but the propsalsstill need to be approved by the federal government before they can be put into effect. "My guess is that Maryland will try to implement an alternative test for AYP, but it may not be accepted by the federal government," Bellino says.

Under these conditions, it will be impossible for Blair to achieve the promising success that President Bush had in mind when he introduced NCLB. "To say that by 2014, 100% of students will be proficient is just not going to happen," Bellino says. ESOL students require more time and money to give them the same opportunities as other students at Blair.

Nationwide, proficiency among all twelfth graders has decreased in reading from 80 percent in 1992 to 73 percent in 2005. Only 61 percent of twelfth graders are proficient in mathematics. The nation itself has serious problems that NCLB does not seem to be solving – only at the 90th percentile, scores of students are not decreasing, according to NAEP.

If the government wants to ensure that every American student's education is improved, it needs to reform NCLB. Education at Blair and in this country will not be improved by 2014 if NCLB is not reformed or repealed.

TOP OF PAGE

The advocate of teaching over testing
Interview with Jonathan Kozal by Anna Mundow, Boston Globe, 10/21/07    

Jonathan Kozol, who has worked with teachers and children in inner-city schools for more than 40 years, is the author of such books as "The Shame of the Nation," "Savage Inequalities," and "Amazing Grace." His latest work, "Letters to a Young Teacher" (Crown, $19.95), adopts a gentler tone as it encourages young Francesca and all teachers who defy or confound what Kozol calls the "drill and kill" policies of the No Child Left Behind Act of 2001, or NCLB. The book coincides with the formation of Education Action!, a network of teachers, principals, and students created, in part, to oppose school vouchers and to support a constitutional amendment that would guarantee equal education as the right of every child in the nation.

Kozol spoke from his home in Massachusetts.

Q: Why were you fired from your first teaching job?

A: I was a fourth-grade teacher in a deeply segregated school in Boston where nothing in the curriculum had anything to do with black children. So I picked up a copy of the collected poems of Langston Hughes. I hadn't heard of Langston Hughes at Harvard; I heard about him from the mother of one of my students. I read a few poems in class and later I was charged with "curriculum deviation." I was a white guy with a Harvard degree, so I didn't suffer. I went on to teach in the Newton public schools. But the children suffered. That experience radicalized me.

Q: Before that, you weren't politically aware?

A: No, I was a perfect product of Harvard College in the late 1950s.

Q: How does Francesca, the young teacher in your book, negotiate her very different classroom?

A: She survives because she is very good at what she does. I tell young teachers who are determined to dissent from some of the Draconian aspects of the current orthodoxy that the best form of protection is to be incredibly good at what you do and keep good discipline in class. In schools with a history of chaos, the teacher who can keep the classroom calm becomes virtually indispensable. Francesca was very well-prepared for every lesson and, at the end of the year, most of her children did well. There are hundreds of thousands like her; the problem is not to recruit them to our inner-city schools; the problem is to keep them. About 50 percent quit in three years, citing this testing mania and the distortion of curriculum thanks to No Child Left Behind.

Q: How did Francesca confront that?

A: She refused to drill her kids for tests; she refused to impose the proto-military routine that is prescribed for many minority children today, almost as if they were a different species. That kind of curriculum would never be permitted in a good suburban school. She gave them the same rich course of study she had received as a child - and she won the loyalty of their parents, to whom she gave her cellphone number. She was also fortunate in having a very enlightened principal who supported her.

Q: Why do you see NCLB as destructive?

A: NCLB widens the gap between the races more than any piece of educational legislation I've seen in 40 years. It denies inner-city kids the critical-thinking skills to interrogate reality. When they reach secondary school, they can't participate in class discussions. Only 4 percent of Chicago high school graduates complete four years of college. Ninety-six percent drop out because they've never learned to pose discerning questions. NCLB's fourth-grade gains aren't learning gains, they're testing gains. That's why they don't last. The law is a distraction from things that really count. There's nothing in it about class size. Children in the top suburban schools - Brookline, for instance - are in classes of 16 or 18 students. Inner-city schools often have 32 students in elementary school classes and up to 40 in high school classes.

Q: Are class and race the most fundamental issues in your view?

A: Our nation's oldest sin and deepest crime is the isolation of minority children - black children, in particular - in schools that are not only segregated but shamefully unequal. Instead of at least bringing equality to segregated schools, NCLB substitutes a regimen that kills the motivation of minority children, demands the impossible of inner-city principals, and drives away the most dynamic teachers, who end up in places such as Newton and Scarsdale. In this respect, race is still at the heart of my agenda.

Q: How do you advise teachers to communicate?

A: I encourage teachers to speak in their own voices. Don't use the gibberish of the standards writers. The official language of the state is loaded with bad English. You can't say use, you have to say utilize; you don't copy, you replicate; you don't start, you initiate; you don't just do it, you implement it. This comes from the world of mediocre semi-intellectuals who write state standards, who cover their insecurity by using polysyllables. All my work comes from a literary background and, at Harvard, I was blessed to spend two years as a disciple to Archibald MacLeish. He kind of adopted me. Like many young Harvard undergraduates, I became incredibly pretentious by my sophomore year. That's an illness not unique to the Ivy League but it is particularly prevalent in Harvard. MacLeish said that whenever you find yourself using big, fancy words in order to convey a term that can be conveyed in simple words, be suspicious of your motives. Good advice.

TOP OF PAGE

Does a Lack of Political Will Make NCLB's "100/2014" Impossible?
Commentary by Marc Dean Millot, Education Week, 10/21/07

There are three potential reasons the 100/2014 goal might be impossible:

The first is that the goal lacks realism in some existential, absolute sense. As noted Friday, that argument would have more credibility if its makers were achieving 90% and the year were 2012, instead of 60, 70 or 80% today.

The real protest gets to the second possible reason. Opponents of 100/2014 would like to conflate their inability to reach the lower targets with the impossibility of the higher. The fight against 100/2014 is not about the higher goal for students. That's a diversion. The underlying issue is what must happen to adult interests if the public school system is to get anywhere near the vicinity of 100/2014 and the stability of the balance of political power among adult stakeholders if those changes are made.

The second reason it might be impossible to achieve 100 percent student proficiency by 2014 amounts to a lack of political will.

Here's what the industry ought to be saying....

Political Will. None of the innovations required by NCLB were welcomed by state education agencies, school districts' boards or superintendents, or the teachers unions. The law was challenged as an unfunded mandate in the courts. Its standards, testing measures and rules about student populations were manipulated to assure the maximum number of schools made Adequate Yeartly Progress, rather than identify real student needs. Supplemental Education Service provisions were undermined through active and passive resistance. Restructuring has been something of a joke.

It's just not credible to argue that states, districts and unions were motivated to resist NCLB implementation from "Day One" in 2001 because they believed it's impossible to make every student proficient.

A far more plausible explanation is that incentives to resist arose from how NCLB moved power in k-12 education from the states to the federal government; from school districts to parents; and from a market based on arbitrary relationships between administrators, publishers and local consultants, to one driven by objective measures of performance favoring evaluation-based products, services and programs.

It is equally reasonable to argue that if what it takes to move in the direction of 100/2014 is a decentralization of authority from states to districts to schools, and greater reliance on a review of outputs rather than a control of inputs, institutions threatened by the change will resist. State agencies, school boards and superintendents, and teachers unions, whose power has been based on central control of inputs with virtually no accountability for outcomes have not been eager to give up power or favorable rules.

States are used to regulating down to the classroom. They are not used to answering to Washington for performance. School boards are used to political interference in their own individual schools, but not to seeing a spotlight placed on schools that serve the mainstream well but minorities quite poorly. Superintendents are comfortable with sole command of a multi-million/billion enterprise, but not portfolio management of independent schools. Teachers unions' influence over school systems disintegrates if they cannot exercise the privilege of seniority over assignment and pay grade.

Any leader of any of these institutions looking at what it will take to radically improve student performance can only be worried about what it means for their organization and the adults they represent. The vast majority can only be expected to balk, and do what they can to slow things down. And that's what they've done.

Bottom Line: It is simply impossible to meet the individualized needs of student subgroups - precisely what is required to get in the vicinity of 100/2014, without giving schools a kind of authority that undermines the power of public education's traditional adult stakeholders. Institutions resist this kind of assault with everything they have; state education agencies, school districts and teachers unions are no different.

Tomorrow: Where there's a will, there's a way. Not exactly. Public education lacks the capacity to approach 100/2014. Both the traditional k-12 education industry and its new "school improvement" rival share some blame.
 
TOP OF PAGE

School superintendent Weast wants to leave NCLB behind
By Leah Fabel, Medill Reports, 10/23/07
 
Like many educators, Jerry Weast is prone to metaphors when expressing his disdain for the No Child Left Behind law: “When a child breaks his arm, you don’t average every child’s X-rays, you set it according to that one child’s particular injury.”

Jerry Weast, however, is not a typical educator. He’s the superintendent of schools in Montgomery County, Md., a sprawling district at the edge of the nation’s capital where many high-powered policy-makers and politicians, among others, send their children to school. They provide a unique audience for Weast’s outspoken criticism of the 2001 law aimed at wiping out the nation’s achievement gap, and facing renewal this year.

The broken arm, to Weast, represents students’ individual weaknesses. And the fixes are as many as the district’s 138,000 public school students, not as few as one factory-model standardized test. Under the law, students take state-approved tests in grades 3-8 and at least once in high school. If too many students perform poorly, schools face a series of sanctions leading, in the worst case, to closure. Weast criticized the tests used in Maryland as a waste of time and said in order for them to be useful as a means to guide instruction, much more money would need to be invested in their creation and interpretation.

Weast and many of his colleagues across the country believe each student demands an individualized education. No Child Left Behind, they say, sacrifices individualized instruction for teaching to arbitrary and unimpressive statewide standards based on the elusive average student.

For years, Montgomery County was known for its wealth and its whiteness, a home to Washington’s elite and the kind of place people move to because of the schools. It remains the sixth wealthiest county in the nation based on median household income, according to 2006 U.S. Census data.
 
But it is no longer demographically uniform. He pulled out a map of the county and stressed its giant population—at nearly a million, larger than six states, and the sixteenth largest school district in the country. He then traced a considerable red zone in the southeastern part of the county signifying a lower-income area. As with his metaphors, he paused and smiled, letting the data sink in. Twenty-six percent of Montgomery County students qualify for free or reduced lunches; in the “red zone” schools, that percentage reaches into the eighties.

Many of those students, more than 10 percent of the district’s 138,000, speak English as a second language, indicative of the area’s booming immigrant population. According to a report by the county’s planning commission, nearly 63,000 immigrants accounted for more than 90 percent of its new residents between 2000 and 2006. The schools claim students from 163 countries, with the heaviest concentration from Latin America and Asia.

Montgomery County no longer looks quite so anomalous. What continues to make it unique, though, is its proximity to the U.S. Capitol. While superintendents across the country deal with the demands of No Child Left Behind, only a few do it in full view of the very people who crafted it. And while the District of Columbia is the federal city, the District’s school system is so notoriously dysfunctional that few of the Capitol area’s power players look to it as representative.

Jerry Weast is happy to have their attention. And if there’s one subject on which he prefers to lecture, it’s his district’s success despite the law—not because of it.
 
Though he’s an outspoken critic, his schools have consistently achieved enviable results. Of 129 elementary schools, only one is in the “improvement” stage under the law, meaning it failed to meet state standards for two consecutive years. Ninety percent of Montgomery County high school students graduate, a rate six percentage points higher than their Maryland peers.

Less impressive results in other categories parallel similar struggles across the nation. Most worrisome have been lower test scores for students diagnosed with special needs and non-native English speakers.

An unshakable optimist, Weast emphasized a continued effort on their behalf and highlighted other successes, such as an increased number of African-American and Hispanic students taking advanced placement tests for college credit. (Critics point out a decline in average scores.)

Chrisandra Richardson, a former principal in the county, now works for Weast as the district’s director of academic support. “No Child Left Behind uses the term proficient; Dr. Weast uses college-ready,” she said. “If you stop at proficient, you have more room to go.” Especially, as Weast complained, when the meaning of proficiency varies by state, the result of the law’s lack of a national standard in favor of state-developed measures.

To explain the county’s methods—and more failings of the law—he sprang to a chalkboard and scrawled two trajectories, the upper one steeper than the lower. “No Child Left Behind is somebody’s idea—some few people’s idea—to figure out a structure to do something about this,” he said, sketching a new line between the end points to represent the achievement gap. “But what we know about that trajectory is you have to individualize it.” To forget that, he said, is to risk limiting the higher achievers.

Message aside, Weast’s motions at the chalkboard seemed part of a well-crafted persona: the high-powered and politically adept administrator who hasn’t lost touch with his classroom roots. He planted them in 1969, inspired by President Lyndon Johnson’s War on Poverty, and moved quickly into administration. In 1999, Montgomery County appointed him superintendent, not quite three years before No Child Left Behind went into effect. In those years, he said, he instituted the same practices the law now encourages: standards, testing and results broken down by race and economic status. He simply believes he’s set standards higher and interpreted data better—something he wishes Congress would pay attention to.

Asked if he thought the law was achieving anything, he said it had started a national “conversation” about the achievement gap, while doing nothing to narrow it. “We tend to have a one-size-fits-all education, and think if we just standardize the test, that’ll make it better. I don’t mind having a standard, but we have to figure out the best conditions for getting each student there.”

In Montgomery County, he believes the best conditions start with finding and supporting good teachers, then allowing them the flexibility to bring their students up to high standards. Underlying his language was another critique: Set the standard and let respected professionals find the best ways to reach it, instead of prescribing a universal classroom experience based on data averaging all students.

Sitting in front of the chalkboard he’d marked with lines and symbols indicating anything but an average, Weast pulled out one more metaphor. He hoped, no doubt, to save the best for last and speak in terms Congress could understand.

“If we had approached going to the moon like we approach the school system, we’d never have made it off of planet earth,” he said. “Come on! The moon is the standard—set it and let’s go.”

TOP OF PAGE

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