News Clips – July 19-27,
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budget will be evident in schools / State Journal-Register (also
Test scoring, not
content, leads to public mistrust on ISAT / Chicago Tribune
Millions cut from
education initiatives / Chicago Sun-Times
Illinois State Board of
Education cuts budget by $180 million / Chicago Tribune
State Board of
Education forced to adopt smaller budget, reduces funding for dozens of
programs Peoria Journal-Star (also State
Journal-Register, Rockford Register-Star, Galesburg Register-Mail)
district to buy $35 million worth of subsidence insurance /
Warren High fighting
state agency's accusations over student testing / Daily Herald
superintendent, but do it wisely / Libertyville Review
District officials probe admissions at top public schools / Chicago
Flowers asks for
certification hearing, stalls removal from office / SouthtownStar
Warren High says $400
ad deal is OK in tough economy / Daily Herald
Early education takes
hit in budget / State Journal-Register (also Peoria Journal Star)
Head is spinning from all
the red ink / SouthtownStar
Metro-east district awaits
decision / Belleville News-Democrat
Ill. spent less than
US average per pupil in '07 / Chicago Tribune
State May Not Cut
Pre-K Funding After All / CBS2-Chicago
Charter schools set
for online trial run / Journal Gazette
Parent-Paid Aides Ordered
Out of City Schools / New York Times
Duncan's Call for
School Turnarounds Sparks Debate / Education Week
Report Urges Halt to Extra
Pay for Master’s Degrees / Education Week
Obama to Unveil
Guidelines for New Education / The Wall Street Journal
Education Reform's Moon
Shot / The Washington
Court: Schools can pay
to sue state / Argus Leader (SD)
As Charter Schools
Unionize, Many Debate Effect / New York Times
Reform Beats the Health Debacle / The Huffington Post
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Shortcomings of budget will
be evident in schools
Letter by Ken Swanson, President of the Illinois
Education Association, 7/20/09
The Illinois General Assembly has fumbled yet another opportunity to act
responsibly on the state budget.
At a time when Illinois'
children, as well as the sick and the elderly, needed courageous leaders,
little courage has been on display at the Statehouse.
The Senate Democrats were the exception, voting to raise revenue sufficient to
fund current state programs and put the state on solid fiscal footing for the
first time in many years.
However, House members, rather than raise taxes to reduce the costly state debt
and pay for services to the needy, as well as for the state services that all
Illinoisans use, supported another bogus budget based on borrowing.
After Gov. Pat Quinn undercut Senate Democrats, the bogus budget was the only
viable plan - viable, but far from adequate. And the damage will be seen in schools
public school teachers know that children cannot do their best when their basic
needs are unmet. We also know that families cannot provide the level of support
needed for success at school when they are consumed with angst about taking
care of their families.
The members of the Illinois Education Association consider the delivery of
quality services to Illinois children and
families to be very much their business; that is why we advocated for a fair
budget that meets the needs of all of Illinois.
Our state deserves political leaders who care more about the needs of the
people than about the acquisition and maintenance of power.
We will partner with like-minded organizations and continue to advocate for a
responsible budget that meets the need of all Illinoisans.
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Test scoring, not content,
leads to public mistrust on ISAT
Commentary by Paul Zavitkovsky of Chicago, Chicago Tribune, 7/21/09
Public conversation about the Civic Committee's recent study of Chicago school
achievement has focused quite properly on where the best leverage is for making
real improvements in school effectiveness. Much of that conversation has been
about whether Chicago
school reform has or hasn't succeeded, and whether charters and other
controversial initiatives are a good way to produce the improvements that all
our children deserve.
Reasonable people will continue to disagree about the answers to these
Meanwhile, it's hard to argue about the need for good information. The core
message of the Civic Committee's study is that continuing distortions in the
way test results are reported leaves everybody guessing about what's actually
With so much at stake, it's important to be clear about the source of the
The Tribune editorial of July 11 ("Still behind") got it partly right
by saying that pressure from No Child Left Behind has led state officials and
their partners in the testing industry to "dumb down the test." But
the way that's being done has less to do with lax standards and easier test
content than it does with how the test is being scored. There are still plenty
of challenging items on the ISAT - you just don't have to get many of them
right to get a passing grade.
Using grading and reporting rules that make results sound better than they
actually are is a fixable problem. Repairing public trust will be harder.
We want to believe that something really good is happening when the percentage
of low-income African American males who meet or exceed 8th grade reading
standards jumps from 47% to 62% between 2001 and 2008. But when average scores
for these same students drop from the 29th to the 24th percentile compared to
all students tested, it means the achievement gap is widening and the problem
is being masked.
Thoughtful reporting of state test information can be a powerful tool for
supporting student and adult learning. The problem we're facing is that current
forms of reportage are built on bad science and are producing false intelligence
at all major levels of policy and practice. Failure to confront this problem
undermines public confidence in everything that testing touches and invites
another decade of squandered opportunities to do right by the students,
parents, teachers and policy makers who are depending on us to find a better
(Zavitkovsky is a clinical faculty member in the Urban School Leadership
program at the University of Illinois-Chicago. Much of the data on Chicago test scores that was reported in the Civic Committee
study is based on his research on Illinois
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Millions cut from education
Worse ahead next year? - Preschool, gifted programs hit
Rosalind Rossi, Chicago
State education officials Tuesday slashed millions of dollars from dozens of
initiatives -- ranging from preschool to after-school to gifted programs -- and
warned of a "catastrophic'' year ahead, when $2 billion in federal
stimulus dollars will dry up.
Acting in emergency session, State Board of Education members faced with
shrunken state revenues approved a $7.26 billion budget for this coming school
year, down $146 million, or 2 percent, from fiscal year 2009.
Officials said they were forced to make a "Sophie's Choice'' among which
programs to axe. Even $2 billion in federal stimulus dollars spread over the
new fiscal year and the one preceding it was not enough to fill the yawning
Taking the biggest hit was early childhood education, which lost $123 million.
The action "rolls back about five years of progress'' and means an
estimated 30,000 children will lose preschool services this fall, said Sean
Noble of Voices for Illinois Children.
All state money for gifted education was "zeroed out,'' along with dollars
for two after-school programs -- one of them started by the wife of Mayor
Efforts to help the blind and dyslexic, teacher recruitment in hard-to-staff
schools, high school students taking Advanced Placement classes and teachers
who earn rigorous national certification all took whacks.
Bilingual education was trimmed 25 percent, or $19 million. However, Board of
Ed chairman Jesse Ruiz warned the cut doesn't mean districts are "off the
hook'' for providing the state-mandated program.
Ricardo Meza of the Mexican American Legal Defense Fund wondered how districts
could serve the same number of kids with less money.
"Are they going to increase class size for bilingual ed?'' Meza asked.
"Not identify kids properly or exit them too soon or not provide services
Ruiz predicted the next state education budget will be "catastrophic''
without the buoy of federal stimulus dollars. This time next year, the Board
will have to cut $1 billion just to maintain its new, hobbled budget, officials
However, districts will receive $160 more per pupil under the new funding plan,
and categorical spending -- most of it for special education -- will increase
by $145 million.
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Illinois State Board of
Education cuts budget by $180 million
Early-childhood program takes the biggest hit
Stephanie Banchero, Chicago
The Illinois State Board of Education slashed its budget by $180 million
Tuesday, spreading the pain of the state's dire economic situation across
dozens of programs that serve thousands of children.
The board actually cut $400 million from targeted programs but was able to
offset some of the damage by increasing general state aid, the money that flows
directly to school districts based on enrollments.
But education advocates across the state immediately warned that the cuts in
targeted programs will lock 30,000 children out of preschools, put thousands of
high school dropouts onto the streets and rob blind children of the Braille
books they need for class.
They called on lawmakers to go back to Springfield,
rework the budget and fully fund the programs.
"It's unconscionable that Illinois
lawmakers have put politics before the most vulnerable children in our
state," said Diana Rauner, executive director of the Ounce of Prevention
Fund, an advocacy organization for early-childhood development programs.
The state's vaunted early-childhood program took the biggest hit, losing a
third of its $380 million budget.
"Without high-quality early-childhood programs, low-income children will
arrive at kindergarten unprepared and will struggle throughout their school
years to catch up," Rauner said.
The funding cuts came a week after Illinois
lawmakers adopted a $26 billion state budget that averted a tax increase but
relies on borrowing $3.5 billion to cover employee pension payments. Lawmakers
left it up to education officials to decide how to spread the pain in school
The state board reluctantly slashed foreign language, arts and agricultural
education programs. They sliced teacher and principal training programs and
wiped out gifted education.
State Supt. Christopher Koch said the board tried to keep the highest level of
funding for priority programs, but there was not enough money to go around.
"This is a sad day for all of us," he said.
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State Board of Education
forced to adopt smaller budget, reduces funding for dozens of programs
Adriana Colindres, GateHouse News Service, 7/21/09
— Lawmakers abandoned their responsibility by failing to adequately fund Illinois' educational
system, the chairman of the State Board of Education said Tuesday as the panel
met in emergency session to slash millions of dollars from programs.
The State Board of Education adopted a statewide education budget of $7.2
billion, which reflects reduced funding from the General Assembly and Gov. Pat
The new education budget, which is $180 million less than last year's, slices
the amount of money allotted for numerous programs, such as early childhood,
bilingual and agricultural education.
The spending plan calls for an increase in general state aid and boosts the
so-called "foundation level" by $160 – to $6,119 per student.
But it reduces or eliminates funding for dozens of other programs.
Agricultural education, for instance, will lose half of the funding it got last
year, leaving it with about $1.7 million. Funding for early childhood education
is being cut by a third, and bilingual education programs will see a 25 percent
Board Chairman Jesse Ruiz criticized lawmakers for not finding extra revenue
that could have gone toward education.
He said he and several lawmakers recently attended a ceremony where Gov. Pat
Quinn signed into law a new statewide capital construction program.
Some of them urged him to make sure the Board of Education wouldn't cut funding
for certain programs.
"But they didn't give us the resources not to do that," Ruiz said.
Gaylord Gieseke, interim president of Voices for Illinois Children, offered
similar criticism in a news release, saying that children are "paying an
outrageously high price for Illinois
leaders' failure to raise adequate state revenues."
Ruiz said that with the 2010 elections just around the corner, education
advocates need to make greater demands of political candidates and press them
on how they plan to fund education. He urged the advocates, including teacher
unions, to be wary about making political contributions to candidates.
"Keep your dollars in your pocket, and give it to a school before you give
it to a candidate," Ruiz said.
State School Superintendent Christopher Koch warned that without additional
revenues, next year's education budget picture would be even bleaker. That's
because $1 billion in federal economic stimulus money is being used in this
year's budget, but it won't be available again.
Jerry Brookhart, Peoria
superintendent of schools, was among two dozen or so education advocates who
spoke at the meeting – either to ask for more funding or to thank Board of
Education officials for not cutting their funding more drastically.
Brookhart compared the board's situation to the novel and film "Sophie's
Choice," in which a mother must choose between her two children to decide
which one will live.
"What child are you going to throw away?" Brookhart said. "Best
of luck to you in making these really tough choices."
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district to buy $35 million worth of subsidence insurance
Rickeena J. Richards, Belleville
BELLEVILLE -- The Belleville School District
201 school board took a precautionary measure Monday when its members approved
the purchase of $35 million worth of mine subsidence insurance.
"We're not predicting doom and gloom; we just want to be covered on
it," Superintendent Greg Moats said. "In today's world, we want to
try and make sure the district is protected."
The coverage, which also includes earthquake insurance, will cost about
It will supplement the $50 million worth of earthquake coverage that costs the
district about $24,000 and is included in the district's $447,000 insurance
package, which covers things including workers' compensation, liabilities, property
The board approved buying the insurance at its regular meeting Monday,
following a recommendation by its finance committee.
Jeff Dosier, assistant superintendent of finance and operations, described the
insurance as "very necessary" to board members at the meeting.
"We just felt that the mine subsidence insurance was important given the
size and value of our buildings and the close proximity, particularly at
Belleville East, with mine subsidence," Dosier said. "We feel like we
needed to get this subsidence insurance."
The Belleville East campus is less than half a mile southwest of Belle Valley
School, which has been sinking because of mine
subsidence since 2007.
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Warren High fighting state
agency's accusations over student testing
By Bob Susnjara, Daily Herald,
Denying it committed any wrongdoing, Warren
School will fight a finding by Illinois' top education office that it is
treating students differently for testing purposes in violation of state and
In dispute is how about 150 underperforming juniors were not allowed to take
the Prairie State Achievement Exam over two days in April. Gurnee-based Warren
District 121 officials said the poor students were not blocked from testing as
a way to increase average test scores.
District 121 board members last year approved an administration recommendation
to boost the academic program's rigor. Warren
officials said the action was cleared in advance by the Illinois State Board of
Education - the agency now leveling accusations against the district.
As part of the effort now under scrutiny, it was agreed students must have
earned 11 credit hours by the fifth semester and completed other requirements
to take the Prairie
State tests as juniors in
spring 2009. Pupils are supposed to benefit by being more prepared to meet the
Results from the exam given to Warren
juniors are highlighted in an annual school report card of student academic
About 150 of 1,000 juniors didn't earn the required 11 credit hours in time or
meet the higher standards for English, math and science, so they couldn't join
classmates in the Prairie State process in April, Warren officials said.
But in the directive issued Monday by the state, Warren was informed an investigation showed
the district was treating the juniors differently for testing purposes. Melina
Wright, the agency's No Child Left Behind liaison, stated Warren is violating state and federal
"This practice must cease immediately," wrote Wright, who warned the
loss of federal funding is at risk. State board of education spokesman Matt
Vanover said Wright is on vacation for the rest of the week.
At a meeting Tuesday night, Warren Superintendent Phil Sobocinski and other
administrators contended the state granted permission for the new academic
standards knowing that meant some juniors wouldn't take the exam. Sobocinski
said District 121 has plenty of supporting documents and will appeal the order
within 30 days.
"We're saying (to the state), 'We wouldn't have done this if you told us
we couldn't do it,'" he said.
Assistant Superintendent for Personnel Mary Perry Bates stressed the district
did not establish the more challenging academic standards to prevent poor
students from taking the exam to boost its annual report card scores.
Bates and District 121 board President John Anderson said the problem possibly
could have been avoided if the teens in question were classified as third-year
students, based on their lack of credit hours, and not juniors.
Sobocinski said information from the state led Warren
to list as juniors the students who were ineligible for the Prairie State
"There's a perception we've done something illicit," he said.
"There was no attempt to do that."
Wileen Gehrig, director of instruction and school improvement, said the pupils
who did not participate in the Prairie
State exam won't be
harmed. She said they may take the ACT college entrance exam in October, which
was part of the Prairie
State spring testing.
Vanover said state schools Superintendent Christopher Koch will rule on the
issue. His decision will come after education office staffers issue a
Bates said other suburban high schools have been using academic criteria
similar to Warren's for the Prairie State
Separately, retired Warren
teacher Richard Bryan last month lodged a complaint with the state accusing the
district of improperly denying some juniors from taking the achievement test.
Vanover confirmed Bryan's
claims are under investigation.
Officials from the state informed District 121 the order demanding students not
be treated differently for testing reasons is unrelated to Bryan's accusations. Koch will be responsible
for deciding Bryan's
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superintendent, but do it wisely
Libertyville Review Editorial, 7/23/09
After years of mismanagement, the Suburban Cook County Regional Office of
Education should be closed -- once and for all.
Last month, Cook County
state's attorney's investigators raided the office in Westchester and Regional
Superintendent Charles Flowers' home in Maywood.
They confiscated computers and documents as part of an investigation in
apparent mismanagement in the office.
A state audit in June found the following problems:
• liabilities exceeding its total net assets by $941,844,
• cash advances given to two employees for nonbusiness purposes,
• no receipts to support 70 percent of the charges on Flowers'
government-issued credit card,
• Flowers' family members on the payroll, and
• late or no payments including employees' payroll, health insurance and rent
on the building.
Days after the raid, the county filed a lawsuit against the office and Flowers
for defaulting on a $190,000 loan.
The problems with the office are not new. A similar audit in 2007, before
Flowers took over, warned the office was $413,000 in debt.
Flowers was ushered in as a reformer in July 2007, but two years later the
office has doubled its debt and appears to have even more problems. Flowers
blames the current office's financial problems on his predecessor.
Regardless, nearly $1 million will be absorbed by the state and county, even
though neither clearly has the means to take on more debt. No wonder taxpayers
are spitting mad with the government waste.
On the surface, the bill introduced by state Rep. Elaine Nekritz, D-57th, of Northbrook, to eliminate the regional superintendent's
office has merit.
The work of the regional education office -- issuing teaching certificates and
reviewing school finances of 143 school districts and 700 schools outside Chicago's city limits --
would be given to the Illinois State Board of Education.
Nekritz and her fellow legislators need to ensure that the State Board of
Education will be able to take over these limited tasks. Will teachers' and
schools' needs be met locally (not requiring trips to Springfield)? Will the state board of education
be able to handle concerns in a timely manner?
Removing a costly layer of government administration is a smart step in the
right direction for increased efficiency in government, just as long as the
state education can handle these new duties and it doesn't cost taxpayers more
in the long run.
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District officials probe admissions at top public schools
Magnet, gifted schools and selective-enrollment high schools included
Stephanie Banchero and Azam Ahmed, Chicago Tribune, 7/23/09
Chicago Public Schools officials launched an investigation Wednesday into how
students are admitted into the district's vaunted and highly competitive
selective enrollment schools.
School officials declined to publicly discuss the probe into admissions
practices at gifted and magnet schools and selective enrollment high schools --
some of the most sought-after schools in the city. In a brief news release,
they said information "recently came to the attention" of schools
chief Ron Huberman that existing policies may not have been followed.
But district sources, speaking on condition of anonymity because the
investigation is under way, said the district law department noticed problems
with the high school admissions process two months ago. This week, an
unspecified problem cropped up at one high school, prompting the probe of all
52 of these application-based schools.
Entry into magnet schools is supposed to be through randomized lottery.
Admittance to selective enrollment high schools and gifted elementary centers
is supposedly based on merit.
But whispers have long swirled that some students get spots in these top-flight
schools not by chance or merit, but by whom their parents know or how much
money they make.
"We are carefully reviewing the existing selective enrollment policies and
guidelines, and we will be implementing additional controls in the near
future," Huberman said in the news release.
The district also plans to hire an auditing firm to review the admissions
process and decide whether additional controls are needed.
The investigation comes a week after the Chicago Tribune made inquiries into
whether clout plays a role in students landing coveted spots in these elite
It also happens against the backdrop of a probe into university admissions
practices. Gov. Pat Quinn created a state panel to look into allegations that
the University of
Illinois gave special
treatment to applicants with powerful patrons, including state lawmakers,
donors and trustees after a Tribune investigation uncovered the practice.
The selective enrollment CPS schools were created in the 1980s when the city
settled a civil-rights dispute with the U.S. Department of Education over
The resulting agreement created a system of magnet schools with goals for a
certain racial breakdown in enrollment. Students are admitted through a
race-based lottery. The idea is to attract families into integrated schools by
offering specialized or high-quality education.
Entry into the elite high schools is based on a point system, with 1,000 as the
top score. Points are generated based on a student's middle school test scores,
grades, attendance and entrance exam score.
The district allows magnet school principals to hand-pick up to 5 percent of
their students. Last year, they extended that right to principals at the nine
selective enrollment high schools, even though some principals acknowledged
that they were already doing it. The principals can consider only extenuating
circumstances such as a special talent or family crisis, not the applicants'
Competition to get into these premier schools is fierce. District officials
would not provide the most recent statistics, but two years ago, the city's
magnet schools received eight applications for every opening. At the gifted
schools, there were 6,800 applications for 1,600 spots. The nine selective
enrollment high schools receive thousands of applications for a few hundred
Principals at these schools recount tales of parents begging to get in,
organizing fundraisers, donating large sums of money or volunteering to work in
the classrooms. Some parents subtly point out that they know public officials
or prominent business executives.
Some principals say they have even gotten calls and letters from elected
The principal at Edison
Center asked her local
school council to insert a clause into her contract that prohibits her from
admitting students who do not test high enough to get into the school, a source
said. She could not be reached for comment.
Alan Mather, principal at Lindblom Math and Science Academy,
said he has felt pressure from parents and politicians. Before joining
Lindblom, Mather was an assistant principal at Northside
High School, one of the crown jewels
in the Chicago
system. He said elected officials sometimes called seeking admission favors. He
declined to name them.
"Did it work?" he asked. "Of course not. We played by the rules.
We sent all those requests straight to the Office of Academic
Other principals said they, too, sent such requests directly to the academic
enhancement office, which oversees selective enrollment schools. Abigayil
Joseph, who runs the office, declined to speak with the Tribune.
Robert Bank, whose son was rejected from Northside, said he is
"disgusted" with the process and lauded the investigation. Bank said
his son scored 965 out of a possible 1,000 on the entrance exam and posted
school test scores in the 90th percentile.
Bank's son was accepted to Lane
School, a selective enrollment school that
performs below Northside. He chose Notre Dame
High School in Niles instead.
"A lot of these politically connected people ... are taking spots from
people who are struggling to get through if not straight-out
disadvantaged," said Bank, a one-time unsuccessful aldermanic candidate in
the 45th Ward. "It is a privileged society. They get the top-paying jobs,
the slots in the schools. ... They get all the breaks."
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Flowers asks for
certification hearing, stalls removal from office
By Duaa Eldeib, SouthtownStar,
Regional Supt. Charles Flowers will remain in office – at least for the time
Flowers requested a hearing to appeal the Illinois State Board of Education's
move to revoke his professional certificates, a spokeswoman for the Illinois
State Board of Education confirmed this afternoon.
Attorney General Lisa Madigan's office served Flowers July 10 with a notice it
planned to revoke his certificates. ISBE received word Monday from Flowers, who
had 10 days to request a hearing before his certificates were revoked.
Flowers cannot serve as head of the Suburban Cook County Regional Office of
Education without the certificates, an ISBE spokesperson previously said.
In the notice, State Supt. Christopher Koch wrote that certificates may be
suspended or revoked upon evidence of "incompetency, unprofessional
conduct, neglect of professional duties, failure to meet other reasonable
requirements ... and other just causes."
Specifically, Flowers failed to approve school calendars or state aid claims
submitted by local school districts, certify bus driver training instructors
and process teacher certifications, Koch said in the notice.
The SouthtownStar, which first detailed the alleged financial and ethical
misconduct, began its investigation in April. The state released an official
audit in June that confirmed the SouthtownStar's findings - which included an office
nearly $1 million in debt, plane tickets to Mississippi for family members, upscale
dinners and limo charges, thousands of dollars in cash and salary advances,
family and friends on the payroll and administrators getting paid for
consulting services done during working hours.
Flowers is now the target of a Cook
County state's attorney's
office criminal investigation. In June of 2008, he took out a $190,000 loan
from the Cook County Board for the office already in $413,000 debt from the
previous administration. Now, that state's attorney is alleging in a lawsuit to
recoup the money that Flowers engaged in a scheme to defraud Cook County
and avoided officials when he defaulted on the loan.
Also, state's attorney investigators raided Flowers' Maywood home and the Westchester Regional
Office July 1.
Flowers, who has had sporadic attendance at work since the raid, did not return
multiple phone calls for comment.
ISBE officials are in the process of assigning a hearing officer, who will have
90 days to make a recommendation on Flowers' certificates to Koch and the State
Teacher Certification Board.
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Warren High says $400 ad
deal is OK in tough economy
Bob Susnjara, Daily Herald, 7/23/09
Shoe Carnival Inc. will pay the $400 to Gurnee-based Warren District 121 for
the right to hang a banner and have other promotional activities at five Blue
Devils varsity football games this year.
District 121 Athletic Director Mark
Pos said his telephone hasn't been ringing off the hook recently with
advertisers willing to part with money. He said Shoe Carnival wants to tout its
Gurnee Mills location.
"In today's economic times, I'm surprised someone has come to us,"
Pos told Warren
board members at a meeting Tuesday evening.
School board members voted 6-1 in favor of accepting Shoe Carnival's ad
dollars. Roberta Pfeiffer, the lone dissenter, said it seems the company will
get too much exposure for the $400.
Plans call for Shoe Carnival to have a banner on a fence along Warren's football field from about 4:30 to
10:30 p.m. on the five game days, Pos said. The deal also will provide for a
Shoe Carnival announcement on the public-address system and an opportunity for
the company to distribute coupons to fans.
"That ($400) is not enough money," Pfeiffer told Pos. "I know
you're excited in this economy."
Evansville, Ind.-based Shoe Carnival's most recent report in May showed
first-quarter sales of $167 million and $4.8 million in net earnings. Shoe
Carnival calls itself a leading retailer of value-priced footwear and
Pos said Shoe Carnival's $400 "is better than nothing" and will be
used for equipment purchases. He said the company's advertising cash stems from
a new initiative with high schools.
collected $4,600 over two years from a sports marketing contract with AT&T
Inc. and Allstate Co. that began in 2006. Pfeiffer questioned whether schools
are a proper setting for corporate ads as one of two objectors to that deal.
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Early education takes hit
Adriana Colindres, GateHouse News, 7/27/09
Education advocates, especially those who deal with Illinois’ youngest residents, are trying to
figure out how to cope with millions of dollars in spending cuts that the State
Board of Education grudgingly approved a few days ago.
The reductions were necessary because the overall state budget, adopted earlier
this month, trims education funding for the first time in years. Though more
money was set aside for some parts of the $7.2 billion education budget,
including the per-pupil “foundation level,” fewer dollars were left for other
programs, including early childhood and bilingual education.
In slicing about $400 million Tuesday from those programs, state board
officials said they sought to protect as many students as possible and give
school districts a high degree of flexibility.
They didn’t downplay the impact of the cuts, which apply to the fiscal year
that began July 1.
“Students, teachers, administrators, they’re all going to feel this,” state
School Superintendent Christopher Koch said.
Board Chairman Jesse Ruiz said even if lawmakers find a way to funnel more
money into education next fiscal year, that won’t make up for the services and
programs that children will lose this year.
“We’re talking about one year in the life of a child that can never be the
same, can never be redone,” Ruiz said.
The most damaging cuts are in early childhood education, which sustained a $123
million hit, representing nearly one-third of last year’s funding.
That translates to an estimated 30,000 kids who won’t be able to attend
Reducing spending for early childhood education is unwise, said Diana Rauner,
executive director of the Ounce of Prevention Fund, which serves at-risk
children and their families.
“If you don’t make those investments, you pay for that over the very long
term,” she said.
Early childhood education helps close the so-called “achievement gap” between
the test scores of students who are white and students who are black or
Hispanic, Rauner said. It also contributes to the development of adults who
become productive members of society, including the work force, she said.
But providing pre-school to fewer at-risk kids means more of them will have a
tougher time later when they’re full-time students, she said. Some will drop
out, while others will be held back a grade or will need special education or
Individual school districts and other providers don’t know yet exactly how the
budget cuts will affect their programs and services. Employees at the State
Board of Education are in the midst of “a lot of processing” to figure that
out, spokeswoman Mary Fergus said Friday.
“There is a very strong awareness that we need to work quickly,” she said.
Looking forward, advocates said they plan to keep pushing lawmakers to increase
Larry Joseph, who heads the Budget & Tax Policy Initiative at Voices for
Illinois Children, said Voices and other organizations will try to push for
passage of an income tax hike plan that the state Senate approved this year. He
said lawmakers should act quickly.
“The longer they wait, the more difficult it will be to catch up,” Joseph said.
Joseph’s analysis of state government finances forecasts deep trouble again
next year: a budget shortfall of $10.3 billion.
Rauner said that despite the grim situation, there is a bright spot.
“The programs work. The investments make sense,” she said. “We know how to help
children enter kindergarten, ready to learn.”
“But it’s also appalling,” she said of the funding cuts. “If we had a cure for
cancer, and then they said we’re not going to make it, people would be up in
arms. We have a remedy for the long-term problem in our work force. Don’t you
think we ought to actually do it?”
TOP OF PAGE
Head is spinning from all
the red ink
Column by Rich Miller, SouthtownStar, 7/27/09
Moments after members of the Illinois State Board of Education voted to cut the
board's budget by a net $180 million last week, an activist group, Voices for
Illinois Children, sent out an urgent e-mail to supporters.
The group sketched out the pain the cuts would cause (the net cut actually
disguises a $389 million reduction to individual program lines). A 33 percent cut
to early childhood programs, for example, could mean the loss of preschool for
"This budget immediately erases five years of progress in early
learning," the group's interim president was quoted as saying in the
e-mail. Voices has an interim president because its founding president now is
Gov. Pat Quinn's chief of staff. The group was ecstatic when Jerry Stermer took
Quinn's top job, but the champagne bottles are long empty.
The Voices e-mail also pointed out that Quinn was given $1.2 billion in
discretionary spending authority by the General Assembly, which, the group
noted, Quinn could use to close that education funding gap.
A different organization, Illinois Action for Children, sent out a blast e-mail
shortly after Voices did.
"Governor Quinn has the power and the moral authority to reinstate this
funding, and we are calling on him to do that before it is too late for
children and families in Illinois,"
the group's president demanded.
They'll all have to get in line. Social service providers already have been
eyeing Quinn's $1.2 billion cash stash to patch their own budget holes created
by the Legislature.
And they're not alone, either. The General Assembly allowed Quinn to use the
money for pretty much anything, including operations, so the employee unions
may demand a piece of that $1.2 billion to reduce the number of threatened
Actually, once word gets around about this discretionary authority, Quinn might
wake up one morning very soon and wish he didn't have it. That line of
demanders will be long, angry and probably not very sympathetic about the
governor's Solomonic dilemma.
But that little pot of gold pales in comparison to the cuts which still have to
Gov. Quinn also was given the authority (which he'll need) to set aside up to
$1.1 billion in state spending to fund a "contingency reserve."
Almost every aspect of state spending was included in the provision - except
for the General Assembly and every constitutional officer besides the governor,
of course. That means cuts.
The new budget law also requires the governor to make at least another $1
billion in unspecified cuts. More pain. The actual deficit is somewhere around
$5 billion, so those two reduction items will only make up one part of the
governor's budget management headache.
And then there's the alarming problem of a rapidly emptied state unemployment
insurance trust fund that nobody has really dealt with as of yet. Right now,
the state is borrowing from the federal government to replenish the fund - and
piling up more crushing debt in the process. That's not gonna look good to the
credit rating agencies, which are fixing to whack Illinois with yet another downgrade.
And then there's next year's budget deficit that the governor has to take into
consideration when spending money this year.
A couple of days after it demanded Quinn spend part of that $1.2 billion stash
on education, Voices for Illinois Children released a report showing next
year's budget deficit will be at least $10.3 billion. That's about what I've
been saying for weeks. One-time revenue gimmicks and the federal stimulus
package this year added up to more than $5 billion. And new spending next year
- pensions and debt payments on the borrowing this year -adds almost $2 billion
more. Plus, the state is carrying over a deficit from last year that won't be
paid this year, so that $3.2 billion gets added to the total.
Is your head spinning yet from all this red ink? Mine certainly is.
Maybe Quinn ought to just take that $1.2 billion and put it in the bank and
save it for next year.
TOP OF PAGE
Metro-east district awaits
Must it repay millions used to link classrooms to the net?
Mike Fitzgerald, Belleville News-Democrat, 7/27/09
After a five-year battle, East St. Louis School District 189 is awaiting a
decision on its appeal of an agency ruling that it must pay back almost $6.5
million in tax dollars spent linking classrooms to the Internet nearly a decade
A lot is riding on the appeal: Millions of dollars in prospective technology
grant requests under the federal E-Rate program are being denied until the
dispute is resolved, according to a March 30 letter to District 189 from the
Universal Service Administrative Co.
The Washington, D.C.-based nonprofit company oversees the E-Rate program on
behalf the Federal Communications Commission, which is handling the District
Each year, USAC awards up to $2.25 billion in technology grants to schools and
libraries nationwide, with the money coming from taxes on telecommunication
companies that are passed on to consumers. More than $22 billion in grants were
awarded to the nation’s schools and libraries between 1996, when E-Rate began,
and 2007, federal records show.
In 2000, USAC awarded District 189 a $6.5 million grant to wire all its school
buildings to the Internet. Four years later, USAC auditors determined the
district must repay the money because it had broken purchasing rules by failing
to have signed contracts in place with vendors who installed phone lines,
routers and other high-tech gear.
When the school district submitted its application to E-Rate, the district “did
not have a legally binding agreement with your service providers, which meets
your state and local or the FCC’s definition of a contract,” states a Feb. 26
letter USAC sent to Garrett Hoerner, the school district attorney.
The company had written earlier that District 189 failed to show it had binding
contracts with vendors Sonacom IT Partners, of St. Louis, and Ameritech — later acquired by
AT&T — before applying for the E-Rate dollars.
Chester Bluette, District 189’s research and technology director, declined to
comment on the case. “I’m following all regulations and all rules,” Bluette
Douglas Clark, the District 189 spokesman, also declined to speak about the
appeal, other than to state that an audit of the district is taking place.
“We’re not releasing any statements or making any statements to the media with
regard to this matter until we find out what the audit results are,” Clark said.
Hoerner, the District 189 lawyer, denied in a March 27 letter to the FCC that
the school district had failed to execute legally binding contracts with the
But even if the school district had failed to execute such contracts, USAC’s
Schools and Libraries Division “should seek recovery of any disbursed funds
from the aforementioned service provider, not the District,” Hoerner wrote.
Meanwhile, District 189 is dealing with the repercussions of a so-called “red
light” enforcement action.
Until the payment dispute is resolved, “no further disbursements will be made
until the complete debt owed to USAC and the FCC is satisfied and/or
arrangements have been made to pay the delinquent debt,” according to the March
30 USAC letter to Bluette obtained by the News-Democrat under the federal
Freedom of Information Act.
Ameritech received $4.3 million to install internal connections throughout
District 189. Ameritech did not have a formal contract with the district, which
relied instead on purchase orders, an audit showed.
In addition, Sonacom — which has since closed its doors — received $2.13
million to install phone lines, routers and perform other high-tech upgrades.
The firm conducted work on 11 schools before a contract was signed, according
to the audit.
The E-Rate program is an offspring of the Telecommunications Act of 1996. It
aims to help schools and libraries buy discounted Internet access and
telecommunications equipment, with the discounts varying from 20 percent to 90
In 2005, a U.S. House of Representatives committee issued a report that
concluded E-Rate had wasted millions of dollars during the previous nine years.
In addition, the program suffered from lax FCC oversight, local mismanagement
and poor safeguards against fraud, waste and abuse, according to the report.
What’s more, these criticisms have been highlighted by a series of scandals
involving bribes and bid-rigging that have rocked E-Rate programs in school
districts around the nation, including Georgia,
Kansas and Connecticut.
In late June, the Dallas
District settled federal charges that it had
ripped off the E-Rate program by awarding contracts based on bribes and
noncompetitive bids. As part of the settlement, the school district agreed to
pay back $750,000 and drop requests for $150 million in federal funding.
In 2008, the district’s former technology chief was sentenced to 11 years in
federal prison for bribery and money-laundering involving E-Rate computer
Not just school districts have been stung by allegations of misconduct
involving E-Rate contracts.
In February, telecom giant AT&T agreed to pay $8.2 million to the federal
government to settle allegations the company had breached the federal False
Claims Act. The settlement stemmed from allegations that employees of its
technical services division had engaged in noncompetitive bidding and had
received E-Rate dollars for products and services ineligible for program discounts.
Despite these scandals, E-Rate has achieved its original goal of making sure
the nation’s schools and libraries were wired to the Internet, said Mark Wigfield, a FCC spokesman.
“It’s been a tremendous safety net, not only for students, but also for libraries,”
Wigfield said. “Where if somebody can’t get Internet at home, many public
libraries also have Internet service. So it is really pretty successful in
terms of meeting its goals.”
Wigfield acknowledged E-Rate’s problems over the years. The program also has
benefited from “a process of trying to improve it and trying to tighten it up
and bring enforcement action where it’s required,” he said. “While at the same
time remaining flexible enough so the kids can use it.”
TOP OF PAGE
Ill. spent less
than US average per pupil in '07
Associated Press, 7/27/09
CHICAGO - Public schools in Illinois spent $9,555 per pupil in 2007,
slightly below the national average.
U.S. Census Bureau figures released Monday ranked Illinois 21st in the country in per-pupil
spending. On average, each state spent $9,666 per pupil in 2007, the most
recent year for which data are available.
Public schools in New York ranked first in the
nation at $15,981 per pupil, while Utah
ranked last at $5,683.
The Census report also breaks down public school revenues by source, including
federal, state and local governments.
The percentage of public school system revenues from local governments was
highest in Illinois at 58.9 percent and lowest
in Hawaii at 1.6
TOP OF PAGE
State May Not Cut Pre-K
Funding After All
Mike Flannery, CBS2-Chicago, 7/27/09
Gov. Quinn Tells CBS 2 He Hopes To Reverse Board Of Education Recommendation
Gov. Pat Quinn may have had a change of heart on a budget cut that would cut
pre-kindergarten programs for more than 30,000 toddlers.
CBS 2 Political Editor Mike Flannery reports on Monday the governor himself
called it a bad idea. Quinn's agreed to cut at least $1 billion from the state
budget. He said he now hopes to avoid eliminating programs for pre-schoolers.
Teachers at Through A Child's Eyes haven't been paid in weeks. The
not-for-profit Foundations for Early Learning, which runs the pre-school, has
run out of cash. The state hasn't paid $128,000 it owes from the last fiscal
year. And now the state's proposing to reduce what it pays by hundreds of
"This is a community who needs us," said teacher Vicki Joseph.
"It's a crime that this place is closed. A crime."
And teacher Marijo Pollmann said losing her job at the pre-school may force her
to put her house up for sale.
"And this is a bad time to do that. But, you know, you lose a whole
salary, plus job cuts for my husband. This is devastating," Pollmann said.
School officials blame the shutdown on the state's deadly combination of
cutbacks and slow pay.
"The children that are in the program are already behind. And they're just
going to get further and further behind in terms of their academic
performances," said Bob Cammarata, executive director of Through A Child's
But Quinn said Monday he's now hoping to reverse a recommendation by the State
Board of Education to cut pre-school for 30,000 youngsters.
"Well the State Board of Education made that recommendation, but I have
the final say. So we're going to be reviewing everything," Quinn said.
Pollmann is dreading having to tell families they can't come back.
"It's gonna be heart-breaking. You can see by Mom's face. She was all set.
And now she finds out that there's nowhere for her children to go next year.
It's just a shame," she said.
Pollmann is one of the 14 teachers who have not received their paychecks; the
state owes them $27,000. In effect, the State of Illinois is forcing those teachers to loan
the $27,000 to the state to get it through its budget problems.
There is hope now, though, that the state might come forward with enough money
to pay the teachers.
TOP OF PAGE
Charter schools set for
online trial run
Niki Kelly, Journal Gazette, 7/19/09
INDIANAPOLIS – These days, Hoosiers use computers for myriad tasks – paying
bills, buying presents, filing taxes, renting movies and even working from
And now a few hundred Indiana
schoolchildren will get the chance this fall to go to school from the comfort
of their own home under a new pilot program for virtual charter schools.
Legislators lifted a two-year moratorium on the schools when they inserted the
pilot into the state budget in late June.
“Different kids find themselves in different circumstances in life and having a
virtual charter school option is important,” said Sen. Dennis Kruse, R-Auburn.
“If a student gets sick or has a disability, we don’t want them to fall behind.
Also, sometimes a classroom holds a high achiever back.
“To tailor a curriculum around the individual kid is better for the child.
Everyone doesn’t fall into the same categories. Flexibility is good.”
But others are concerned that the provision establishing the pilot program
lacks details, especially about current and future costs.
“It was force-fed to the General Assembly, a hostile injection into the
education system instead of a cooperative process,” said Rep. Greg Porter,
D-Indianapolis, chairman of the House Education Committee. “We needed to do it
the right way, to have a real debate with clear regulations and
Several bills on the topic failed during the regular legislative session, and
the provision was placed into the state budget during last-minute negotiations.
To start slowly, lawmakers approved a pilot that would help 200 kids in the
upcoming school year and 500 children in the 2010-11 school year. And it’s
supposed to focus on students who have medical disabilities or circumstances
that prevent them from attending traditional public schools.
By definition, a virtual charter school is one that provides more than 50
percent of its instruction through long-distance learning, online technologies
or computer-based instruction.
There are already two hybrid charter schools that come close to this – the
Hoosier Academies in Muncie and Indianapolis – except that more than half of
their instruction is face to face with teachers at learning centers. These
institutions could likely become full-time virtual charters with ease.
“Today’s society has dictated a different need for children,” Superintendent of
Public Instruction Tony Bennett said, noting that Indiana has to develop multiple pathways for
success. “Virtual charters are one option to do just that.”
Cam Savage, spokesman for the Indiana Department of Education, said the
provider of the pilot virtual charter school could be announced as early as
He said the program will have open enrollment statewide with a maximum of 200
students to be chosen through a lottery system. It will be completely
computer-based, though the grades it will cover are unclear at this point.
The provider of the program will receive funding based on 80 percent of the
average statewide basic tuition support per pupil.
The estimated cost is about $3.2 million for the two-year program, but how the
program is financed depends on where the children come from.
Legislators included a significant restriction on the student population that
could save money.
It says at least 75 percent of the students enrolled in the pilot had to be
counted in the public-school enrollment the prior year. This means the state is
already funding those students in some school district and the money will
simply shift to the new charter school.
But if children who are currently home-schooled enter the program, they will
cost the state additional money because those students aren’t covered by state
“It will be a good curriculum for home-schoolers,” said Sen. Connie Sipes,
D-New Albany. “We aren’t paying for them now, so it will cost us more money.”
This additional cost has been a rallying cry against the program for the
Indiana State Teachers Association.
“The experience in other states is these things grow quickly – $20 million, $30
million,” ISTA lobbyist Dan Clark said. “We had no additional money for
full-day kindergarten or remediation, but we started this program without a
full vetting of the cost.”
Bennett understands the concern and said that is why he agrees with how the
pilot was structured: “it makes sure we’re not creating another financial
hardship on the state.”
Lynette Quinn, president of Indiana
Families for Public Virtual Schools, discounts the home-school effect, saying
many of those families want a Christian-oriented education with flexibility in
curriculum that a public school – even a virtual charter school – can’t
She also noted those students would then have to take the state ISTEP+ test.
But Quinn is concerned about the constitutionality of the 75 percent-25 percent
split of students, noting Indiana
is supposed to provide equal educational opportunities for all students.
In general, she thinks the option is good for children with special medical
needs, behavioral issues or even children in rural schools who currently have
no charter school options in the state. And a number of parents whose children
are training for the Olympics have expressed interest, she said.
“It’s an alternative, and it’s not for everyone,” Quinn said. “This is not a
threat to the traditional school environment. It’s an enhancement.”
Sipes, a former elementary school principal, isn’t opposed to using the method
for a small group of students with special needs but is concerned about
broadening it too much.
“Call me old-fashioned, but I just think it’s important for kids to be around
other kids,” she said. “Learning to interact with one another, to tolerate
differences, is part of going to school. I want kids and people in general to
learn how to get along with each other.”
Quinn said there are online technologies that allow students and teachers to do
problems together on a “whiteboard,” let teachers to communicate with students
verbally and through a chat box and even allow students to talk to each other.
“It’s completely interactive – not just sitting at the computer all day just
stuck,” she said. “The computer is just the school bus.”
TOP OF PAGE
Parent-Paid Aides Ordered
Out of City Schools
Winnie Hu, 7/19/09
For years, top Manhattan
public schools have raised hundreds of thousands of dollars from parents to
independently hire assistants to help teachers with reading, writing, tying
shoelaces or supervising recess. But after a complaint by the city’s powerful
teachers union, the Bloomberg administration has ordered an end to the
Principals have been told that any such aides hired for the coming school year
must be employees of the Department of Education, their positions included in
official school budgets.
But such employees can command nearly double the pay of the independently hired
assistants, and several schools on the Upper East Side
either have told current employees they will probably not have jobs in the fall
or have put off hiring new employees. That has incensed many parents, who see
the aides less as a perk than as a necessity to cope with growing class sizes
in well-regarded schools like the Lower Lab School for gifted children, where the
average class size is now 28, and Public School 290, where broom closets are
used as offices and the cafeteria doubles as a gym.
“The reason the teaching assistants are here is because they’ve been stuffing
so many kids in these classes,” said Patrick J. Sullivan, co-president of the
Parent-Teacher Association at the Lower
(P.S. 77), where parents spend $250,000 a year on the teaching assistants.
“Nobody wants to break any rules, but 28 is just too many kids for one
Rebecca Daniels, a mother of two and past president of the Community Education
Council for District 2, which stretches from the Upper
East Side to TriBeCa, said the move exemplified how city education
officials could be oblivious to classroom needs. “I mean,” she said, “how much
do parents have to put up with?”
Supplemental fund-raising from parent groups has long raised questions of
fairness. While the ability to provide extras — teaching assistants, books,
computers and art supplies, enrichment programs — has helped keep middle-class
families in urban public schools, it also can make it more difficult for
schools in poor neighborhoods to compete.
And education officials and union leaders say that the informal system of
hiring teaching assistants that has sprouted up over the past decade raised
security concerns because it was not necessarily subject to the city’s
screening process. “It’s hurting our union members, and to some extent it could
be hurting kids because we don’t know how qualified they are,” said Ron Davis, a
spokesman for the United Federation of Teachers, which filed a grievance in
October about the hiring.
Ann Forte, a spokeswoman for the Department of Education, said the city had
prohibited parents from directly paying the salaries of school staff members
since the 1990s. She added that parent groups could still raise money to add to
the staff, as long as they give the funds to their schools, and the assistants
hired are employed by the Department of Education.
In a March memorandum, Joel I. Klein, the schools chancellor, instructed
principals to immediately report P.T.A.-paid employees to the Department of
Education for background checks and fingerprinting.
In response, 18 schools reported a total of 195 employees, including classroom
aides, art instructors, lunch monitors and people who help with after-school
programs, according to the Education Department. Of those employees, at least
49 had not previously been fingerprinted (some school administrators conducted
the checks on their own).
Some of these schools are among the most sought-after in the city, admitting
students through a competitive selection process, or serving neighborhoods
where families choose to live so their children can attend the local schools.
P.S. 77 reported the largest number of hires, 43; P.S. 290 on the Upper East
Side had 28; and a citywide gifted program known as the Anderson
School, on the Upper
West Side, had 21. Other schools included P.S. 6 on the Upper East
Side, P.S. 166 and P.S. 87 on the Upper West Side, and P.S. 8 in Brooklyn Heights.
The current teaching assistants generally earn $12 to $15 an hour, compared
with as much as $23 an hour, plus benefits, for the unionized
paraprofessionals. Even if schools were willing to pay the higher salaries,
they could not keep their assistants because of a citywide hiring freeze.
Average class sizes in the early grades across the city have stayed fairly
stable around 21 since 2003, but some Manhattan
schools have seen theirs swell. Most of the nearly $150 million in state aid used
to reduce class sizes last year went to schools serving low-income students.
Parents at P.S. 290 say they began paying for teaching assistants more than
five years ago to provide an extra layer of supervision as enrollment
skyrocketed. The assistants there do not help with instruction, but instead
hand out papers, take children to the nurse and help supervise recess, where
students often have to play on the street. The suggested donation to a teaching
assistant fund is $700 a year per child, and half of the school’s families
contribute something, for a total of about $200,000 a year.
“This is not like the movers and shakers of Wall Street; this is a middle-class
school,” said Emily Heckman, whose 7-year-old son will be entering second
grade. “We’re doing this because we’re stuck — we have kids coming out of the
Parents at several schools said they did not know whether there would be any
teaching assistants this fall, citing the additional cost as well as confusion
over how to proceed without violating the city’s regulations. “We’re living in
this land of limbo trying to find out what happens next,” said Sandi Atkinson,
co-president of the P.T.A. at P.S. 116 in Murray Hill, which spends about
$100,000 annually for up to nine teaching assistants shared by the kindergarten
and first-grade classes.
At P.S. 6, each kindergarten and first-grade class was assigned a full-time
assistant, who earned $12 an hour; second- and third-grade classes shared them.
The 17 assistants cost nearly $300,000 a year.
The system was so successful, according to parents, that it evolved into a
training ground for future teachers: At least half of last year’s assistants
had graduate degrees in education and New York State
teaching licenses. In recent years, 10 former assistants have been hired as
teachers at P.S. 6.
School administrators said that hiring union members not only would cost more,
but would also probably bring in people with less experience; the typical
paraprofessional does not have a four-year college degree. The school is
considering using some of the money raised for teaching assistants to hire a
part-time teacher to run enrichment and academic intervention programs.
Sally Holt, whose son, Lucas, 4, is starting at P.S. 6 in the fall, said the
caliber of the teaching assistants was one reason she moved from the Upper West Side in 2005.
“I’m afraid of him being lost with a crowd of kids,” she said. “The more adults
in the room, the better the chances that his strengths will be recognized and
nurtured, and his weaknesses will be addressed.”
TOP OF PAGE
Duncan's Call for
School Turnarounds Sparks
By Catherine Gewertz, Education Week, 7/21/09
secretary of education’s call to “turn around” the nation’s 5,000 worst-performing
schools has found a warm welcome among educators and policymakers who see that
focus as long overdue. But it has also sparked debate about how—and
whether—such an enormous leadership and management challenge can be
Arne Duncan is pressing for attention to chronically underperforming schools as
one of four areas that states must address if they are to receive federal
economic-stimulus aid. Those schools have failed to make academic progress year
after year, the secretary said in a June speech, but “too many administrators
are unwilling to close failing schools and create better options.”
Under the federal No Child Left Behind Act, Mr. Duncan wrote in a Commentary
that month in Education Week, school officials have not made dramatic changes
in troubled schools but have “taken the path of least resistance.”
Now, Mr. Duncan is seeking to rally an army to overhaul learning in the
lowest-performing 5 percent of schools over five years. He’s calling on
“turnaround specialists,” charter school groups, unions, school districts, and
states to do their part.
Few dispute that bold action on low-performing schools has been lacking. But
even with new political leadership and money, the job may require more of the
field than it can deliver.
“I worry that we don’t have the capacity to do it, and I’ve worried about it
for 10 years,” said Tom Vander Ark, the former executive director of education
for the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation who is now a partner in the
education advocacy and strategy group VA/R Partners, based in La Jolla, Calif.
"But it's time to take on this issue. We'd never solve this problem if we
didn't have a leader pushing on it.
“We didn’t know how to go to the moon when Kennedy put that out, either. This
is a bigger challenge than that. This is our moonshot. And it’s not one
moonshot, it’s thousands.”
Quick and Dramatic
The federal government is dangling a lot of money for school turnaround work.
The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, passed by Congress at the urging of
President Barack Obama in an effort to spur the nation’s economy, includes $3.5
billion for the Title I school improvement grant program. The current fiscal
year’s budget includes $545 million specifically for low-performing schools,
and the Obama administration has requested another $1.5 billion for that
purpose in the fiscal 2010 budget.
Definitions of “school turnaround” vary. Some include closing schools or hiring
new staff members; others don’t. Most definitions share the view, however, that
what distinguishes a “turnaround” from “school improvement” efforts is that it
delivers dramatic improvement within a few years.
The private sector, where the idea was born, itself has a mixed record on
corporate turnarounds, according to Frederick M. Hess, the director of
education policy studies at the Washington-based American Enterprise Institute.
“Turnarounds can be a valuable tool for improving underperforming schools,” Mr.
Hess said in an article he co-wrote for the American School Board Journal last
year. “However, the hope that we can systematically turn around all troubled
schools—or even a majority of them—is at odds with much of what we know from
In a June 22 speech, Mr. Duncan outlined four basic ways to turn around
low-performing schools, assuming one year of planning. He urged educators to
begin planning now for the first round of school takeovers in the fall of 2010.
Under the first option, a new school leader recruits new teachers in the
spring. The previous teachers must reapply for their jobs but most don’t get
rehired. In the second version, the school’s staff and leadership are replaced,
and the school is handed over to a charter management organization or
for-profit education management organization.
In the third scenario, most of the school’s staff remains, but major steps are
taken to revamp school culture. Schools that take this approach must, at a
minimum, establish a “rigorous” performance evaluation system, along with more
supports, training and mentoring; strengthen curriculum and instruction;
increase learning time; and give leadership teams more flexibility to make
budgeting, staffing, and calendar decisions. Mr. Duncan warned that this
approach can’t be used as a “dodge to avoid difficult but necessary choices.”
The fourth option closes a school and enrolls students in a better school.
Role of Charter Schools
Mr. Duncan’s special plea for help from the charter school sector has raised
questions about charter managers’ interest in, and capacity for, fixing low-performing
Greg Richmond, the president of the Chicago-based National Association of
Charter School Authorizers, whose members oversee half the country’s 4,000-plus
charter schools, said it would be “a challenge” to persuade high-quality charter-management
organizations to step into the fray. Successful CMOs, he said, have excelled
opening perhaps one new school, and exerting a lot of control over its design
and replication. Such schools are publicly funded but largely independent in
“The reason why they are excellent schools is they are very thoughtful about
what it is that makes them excellent, and they pick their opportunities
carefully,” Mr. Richmond said. “Turnarounds are more reactive. The school
system calls more of the shots. So a CMO is losing some of that control.”
Andy Smarick, a distinguished visiting fellow at the Thomas B. Fordham
Institute, in Washington,
argues that opening new schools is indeed a more promising turnaround strategy
than revamping existing schools by the thousands.
“The good CMOs don’t start fresh by coincidence,” said Mr. Smarick, who was a
deputy assistant secretary in the U.S. Department of Education under President
George W. Bush. “Starting fresh is how the good ones like KIPP and Amistad get
it right,” he said, referring to the Knowledge Is Power Program, whose network
includes more than 80 charter schools, and the Amistad Academies, three New Haven, Conn.,
But Jordan Meranus, who oversees turnaround work for the San Francisco-based
NewSchools Venture Fund, thinks school management organizations will respond
favorably to Secretary Duncan’s pleas.
He points to the work of Mastery Charter Schools, which took over three
floundering Philadelphia middle schools in the past few years and has produced
gains of 40 percentage points on state tests there. Mastery, which is in
NewSchools’ investment portfolio, is often cited by Mr. Duncan.
“These organizations are doing this, they are doing it multiple times, and
they’re demonstrating that it’s possible,” Mr. Meranus said. “Combine that with
school operators—scores of them—that will partner with reform-minded districts
and states to take on this work, and we have the makings of a new cohort that
can do this successfully.”
Two-by-Fours and Scalpels
Robert L. Hughes, the president of New Visions for Public Schools, a reform
organization that works with 76 New
York City schools, said that in 20 years of work, he
has seen some schools that had to be shut down and started fresh elsewhere, and
others that managed significant improvements while staying open.
“You need to have an accurate diagnosis of why each of those 5,000 schools are
failing,” he said. “It’s crucial. Sometimes you need a two-by-four to get
change. Other times you need a scalpel.”
He added that district operations must be reimagined alongside school
operations if schools are to get the necessary freedom and support to flourish.
William E. Guenther, the president and founder of Mass Insight Education and
Research Institute, a Boston-based group that designed a turnaround framework
in 2007 and is helping states use its strategies, said the prospect of fixing
5,000 schools over five years doesn’t have to be daunting. That’s 1,000
schools, or an average of 20 schools per state, annually, he said.
“Are we really going to stand up in front of those kids and their parents and
say we can’t take a shot at turning around 20 schools a year?” Mr. Guenther
As education leaders and managers mobilize to do turnaround work, they must
avoid past mistakes, Mr. Guenther said. Instead of changing only the people or
programs in low-performing schools, their operating conditions must also be
changed, he said, including providing more autonomy for school leaders.
Mass Insight’s framework envisions “lead partners” that work—with a state-level
unit’s support—to coordinate all programs and services within a school, and
that are held accountable for student achievement.
Robert Balfanz, a Johns Hopkins University research scientist who located the
2,000 high school “dropout factories” that Mr. Duncan repeatedly highlights as
symbols of needed turnaround, said he believes the education field possesses
the knowledge to make low-performing schools work well.
In struggling high schools, for instance, educators know what has to be done:
Below-grade-level skills must be addressed, and a range of approaches can do
that, Mr. Balfanz said. High-poverty schools have more inexperienced teachers,
so special support must be provided to them, he said. And, he said, effective
approaches for combating student disengagement and truancy, and providing
tutoring and social supports, are all out there.
Still, he said, the knowledge base for all those efforts is not “codified,
easily accessible, and packaged for broad consumption.”
“We have a knowledge base about what works and what doesn’t, and the conditions
under which it works,” Mr. Balfanz said. “We need to draw on that. The
challenge is getting the right strategy in the right place, and getting the
know-how to more people.”
‘Top to Bottom’
In Hartford, Conn., one of the school districts singled out by Secretary Duncan
for success in turning around low-performing schools, leaders have found that
it requires a new school principal and staff members, more school-level
autonomy, and a year of planning that yields a complete redesign of a school’s
“You can’t just change a couple things in silos, like a new principal or staff.
You literally have to redesign a school from top to bottom, specifying every
detail, so everyone there knows what they are committing to,” said Steven J.
Adamowski, the superintendent of the 25,000-student district, which redesigned
one high school and two elementary schools last year.
Mr. Adamowski, who helped lead school improvement work at the American
Institutes for Research before going to Hartford in 2006, said the danger in
turnaround work is to do “too much in a shotgun manner,” without “going deep.”
The University of
Virginia’s business and
education schools run a joint program that trains teams made up of a principal,
school staff members, and a district-office “shepherd” to do rapid school
turnarounds. It began in Virginia
seven years ago, has trained 84 principals and 272 team members, and has
expanded to other states and districts.
Daniel Duke, an education professor with the program, said those experiences
have not shown that school closure or wholesale staff replacement is necessary.
But a new principal is key, and the quality of that leadership is crucial to
the practices that will determine a successful turnaround.
For instance, educators often say that teachers should meet in teams to analyze
data, but they might do that at schools where turnarounds work as well as those
where they don’t, Mr. Duke said. The difference is a principal who can lead the
staff in being open to what the data tell them, not “warding off” conclusions
about how instruction needs to change, he said.
Responding to Call
Regardless of the debate over the fine points of turning around schools, and
who should do that, organizations of many stripes are responding to the
Joseph Wise, the chief education officer at EdisonLearning, said the New York
City-based school management company has “staffed up pretty aggressively” to
position itself for more turnaround work. It has added staff members with
expertise in school turnaround, and started a new team to help the company’s
regional managers plan strategy with school boards, superintendents, and
charter school boards.
Mr. Meranus of the NewSchools Venture Fund said that in the past two months,
more of his organization’s investment partners have been calling for guidance
on getting into turnaround work.
New Leaders for New Schools, a New York City-based nonprofit group that trains
and places new principals, is getting more inquiries from its state and
district partners about expansion, said Jon Schnur, its chief executive
officer. One state, for instance, has expressed interest in having New Leaders
expand from one district to multiple districts statewide, with a particular
focus on the lowest-performing schools, Mr. Schnur said.
Mr. Guenther of Mass Insight cautioned that the big turnaround push, with its
attendant funding, risks attracting those unprepared for the work.
“States will have lots of money they have to spend quickly,” he said.
“Providers could just hang out their shingles, rename their existing staff, and
call themselves turnaround partners.”
Even with its risks and challenges, many see the high-visibility call for
school turnarounds as an unprecedented opportunity.
“This is a transformative moment in time,” Randi Weingarten, the president of
the American Federation of Teachers, said in a recent interview. “If we blow
it, if we don’t come up with models that work, it’s a disappointment to
TOP OF PAGE
Report Urges Halt to Extra
Pay for Master’s Degrees
By Stephen Sawchuk, Education Week, 7/21/09
States are spending billions in education dollars each year rewarding teachers
for earning advanced degrees that show little correlation with improved student
achievement, a report released yesterday concludes.
The policy of giving teachers salary “bumps” after they earn master’s degrees
in education “is in the drinking water everywhere, but we know the relationship
between the degree and student achievement is nonexistent,” said Raegen T.
Miller, a senior policy analyst at the Center for American Progress, a
Washington-based think tank.
Mr. Miller co-wrote the policy brief—one in a series on school financing in the
economic downturn—with Marguerite Roza, a professor at the Center for
Reinventing Public Education at University
of Washington, in Seattle.
By decoupling such degrees from salary schedules, states and districts could free
up funding for other types of compensation policies that might promote student
achievement, the authors suggest in the report.
The brief arrives even as transformation of teacher-compensation systems rises
to the top of the national agenda, propelled by the $200 million in additional
money provided through the federal economic-stimulus package.
Districts in every state provide additional pay for teachers who hold master’s
degrees, either by granting the teachers annual stipends on top of their base
salaries or by altering the district salary schedule to award “lane” increases
to those who earn the degrees.
A handful of other states, such as New
York, require teachers to hold such degrees to obtain
the highest level of licensure. Regardless of the mechanism, the accompanying
salary bumps are typically career-long, not just one-shot increases.
Between federal, state, and local funding sources, states devote 1 percent to 2
percent of their current annual education expenditures to those added costs,
according to the report.
The figures vary depending on the number of teachers in the state, the
percentage of those who hold the degree, and the average salary bump teachers
receive from acquiring the degree. In all, states spend about $8 billion
annually compensating educators for holding a master’s degree in any subject.
Researchers have found that in certain content areas, such as mathematics and
science, holding an advanced degree bears a positive relationship to student
achievement. But many more teachers hold master’s degrees in education.
In terms of per-pupil expenditures, the cost amounts to $319 per student in Washington state, which
pays more than half its teachers upwards of $10,000 annually for having a
master’s degree. It is lowest in Texas,
which has only 27 percent of its teachers holding an M.A. and awards such
teachers about $1,400 a year each in additional pay.
Although dozens of states and districts have begun to set up performance-based
pay systems over the past decade, far fewer states and districts have examined
the cost of master’s degrees. Even some of the most prominent performance-pay
models, such as Denver’s
ProComp plan, allow teachers to make more for earning the credentials.
More recently, detaching compensation from the attainment of master’s degrees
was one of the initial proposals of District of Columbia schools Chancellor
Michelle A. Rhee when the city’s collective bargaining agreement came up for
renewal in 2008.
That proposal, though, was overshadowed by a controversial two-tiered pay
proposal that would have allowed some teachers the opportunity to take part in
a performance-based system in exchange for relinquishing tenured status for one
year (Pay-for-Tenure Swap for D.C. Teachers Under Debate Aug. 27, 2008).
In phasing out bonuses for advanced degrees in education, states could use the
savings to institute comprehensive changes to teacher compensation. Although
the research connecting performance-based pay to improved student achievement
is thin and inconclusive, piloting and evaluating such plans would allow
districts to home in on ways of better aligning pay to goals for boosting
student learning, Mr. Miller said.
Such reforms could be politically challenging, but districts and states could
render them palatable if they grandfathered in current teachers and changed
policies only for those entering the profession, the report suggests.
“The variation between states on these pay increases shows that not everyone
has the same feeling about the value of these degrees,” Mr. Miller said.
The stakeholders with the most to lose from such a restructuring of teacher pay
could be schools of education, whose enrollments are supported by the salary
incentives currently in place. The American Association of Colleges for Teacher
Education, however, has generally supported efforts to link graduates of
teacher colleges to their students’ performance and to better integrate
content-area coursework and pedagogy.
“Paying teachers for earning a master’s degree was a response to issues of
inequity and caprice that existed in the last century,” Sharon P. Robinson, the
president of AACTE, said in an e-mail. “With the advent of new fiscal
constraints, districts must give thoughtful consideration to teacher pay, with
teachers, and with a view toward new principles in human-capital management as
well as questions of productivity.”
The idea is not necessarily anathema to teachers’ unions, either.
For instance, James R. Carlson, the UniServ director for the Kettle Moraine, Wis., local of the
Wisconsin Education Association Council, a National Education Association
affiliate, and the director of the Educator Compensation Institute, recently
unveiled a proposed compensation system that would grant salary bumps only to
teachers who earned advanced degrees in a content area or in cognitive science.
“We have to embrace contemporary research if we’re going to generate new
sources of income in the compensation system,” Mr. Carlson said. “The status
quo is not good enough.”
Under his proposal, teachers could make more money by earning advanced
certification through the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards,
conducting “action” research, and gradually taking on additional roles as lead
teachers and mentors.
UniServ staff members provide bargaining expertise to local NEA affiliates, and
Mr. Carlson hopes that, with the right incentives, several interested local
affiliates will consider the proposal.
“Hopefully, better economic times will convince state legislators to fund pilot
projects to see if these things are worth doing,” Mr. Carlson said. “That’s the
right way to go about this.”
TOP OF PAGE
Obama to Unveil Guidelines
for New Education
Robert Tomsho, The Wall Street Journal, 7/24/09
Aiming to spark a new round of change in the nation's schools, President Obama
is expected to tell states on Friday what they need to do to qualify for part
of a $5 billion pool of new federal funding.
Created as part of the $100 billion stimulus fund targeted for education
earlier this year, the so-called "race to the top fund" was designed
to fuel innovation in the classroom. Of the related funding, $4.35 billion will
be distributed to states and $650 million will be reserved for school districts
and nonprofit groups.
Amid deep recession-related cuts in education budgets, many states are already
scrambling to make policy changes to help them qualify for the grants. Arne
Duncan, the U.S. Secretary of Education, said 46 states are cooperating on
creating a common academic standard for their public schools and seven states
have lifted limits on the number of charter schools that can operate within
"This is about challenging the status quo," he said in an interview
Thursday, adding that the funds are also designed to bring "unprecedented
resources to children at a time of desperate need."
The first round of grants from the fund is expected to be awarded early next
year and only a few states are likely to land them, administration officials
According to the related regulations that the president is scheduled to unveil
at the Department of Education on Friday, states will not be eligible for the
funds at all if they have any legal or regulatory barrier preventing the use of
student achievement data from being used to evaluate teachers and principals.
States will also be judged on how well they work with other states in
developing common academic standards. Currently, under the federal No Child
Left Behind law, states are free to set their own standards for what students
should learn. They vary widely and, in many cases, scores on state achievement
tests appear out of sync with national test results.
States applying for the grants will also asked to show that they are paying teachers
based on performance, intervening faster to turn around their lowest-performing
schools, authorizing more charter schools and closing achievement gaps such as
those between white students and their black and Latino peers.
Mr. Duncan said states unwilling to make such changes won't get the new funds.
"They will lose out," he said.
Gene Wilhoit, executive director of the Council of Chief State School Officers,
a professional group of top education officials in the states, said the
regulations are pretty much in line with what educators have been expecting but
added that they look "for pretty aggressive action on the part of the
states" applying for the funds.
TOP OF PAGE
Education Reform's Moon
Commentary by Arne Duncan, U.S. Secretary of Education, Washington Post,
To every governor who aspires to be his state's "education governor,"
this is your moment. Today, President Obama is to announce the draft guidelines
for applying for the $4.35 billion Race to the Top fund -- by far the largest
pot of discretionary funding for K-12 education reform in the history of the United States.
Since its inception in 1980, the U.S. Department of Education has traditionally
been a compliance-driven agency with only modest discretionary funds available
for reform and innovation. By contrast, the Race to the Top fund marks a
once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for the federal government to create incentives
for far-reaching improvement in our nation's schools. Indeed, the $4.35 billion
available in Race to the Top easily outstrips the combined sum of discretionary
funds for reform that all of my predecessors as education secretary had.
For states, school districts, nonprofits, unions and businesses, Race to the
Top is the equivalent of education reform's moon shot -- and the Obama
administration is determined not to miss this opportunity. We will scrutinize
state applications for a coordinated commitment to reform -- and award grants
on a competitive basis in two rounds, allowing first-round losers to make
necessary changes and reapply.
What are we looking for? The president starts from the understanding that
maintaining the status quo in our schools is unacceptable. America
urgently needs to elevate the quality of K-12 schooling and boost college
graduation rates, not simply to propel the economic recovery but also because
students need stronger skills to compete in a global economy. As he has put it,
"education is no longer just a pathway to opportunity and success -- it's
a prerequisite for success." Yet tragically, too many schools fail to
prepare their students for college or the workforce.
Under Race to the Top guidelines, states seeking funds will be pressed to
implement four core interconnected reforms.
-- To reverse the pervasive dumbing-down of academic standards and assessments
by states, Race to the Top winners need to work toward adopting common,
internationally benchmarked K-12 standards that prepare students for success in
college and careers.
-- To close the data gap -- which now handcuffs districts from tracking growth
in student learning and improving classroom instruction -- states will need to
monitor advances in student achievement and identify effective instructional
-- To boost the quality of teachers and principals, especially in high-poverty
schools and hard-to-staff subjects, states and districts should be able to
identify effective teachers and principals -- and have strategies for rewarding
and retaining more top-notch teachers and improving or replacing ones who
aren't up to the job.
-- Finally, to turn around the lowest-performing schools, states and districts
must be ready to institute far-reaching reforms, from replacing staff and
leadership to changing the school culture.
The Race to the Top program marks a new federal partnership in education reform
with states, districts and unions to accelerate change and boost achievement.
Yet the program is also a competition through which states can increase or
decrease their odds of winning federal support. For example, states that limit
alternative routes to certification for teachers and principals, or cap the
number of charter schools, will be at a competitive disadvantage. And states
that explicitly prohibit linking data on achievement or student growth to
principal and teacher evaluations will be ineligible for reform dollars until
they change their laws.
Neither I nor the president is naive about reform. I served as superintendent
of the Chicago Public Schools for seven years -- and saw firsthand that the
system often served the interests of adults better than it did its students.
Still, I reject much of the pessimism and age-old apathy about school reform. I
have visited 23 states in the past six months and have met countless students, teachers,
parents and administrators who hunger for change. I have seen high-performing
schools and districts that are closing achievement gaps, raising graduation
rates and shipping off to college kids who never thought it possible.
Since President Obama took office, numerous states have adopted reforms that
would have been almost unthinkable a year ago. This spring, 46 states signed on
to a state-led process to develop a common core of K-12 standards in language
arts and math. At the same time, Tennessee, Rhode Island, Indiana, Connecticut, Massachusetts,
Colorado and Illinois have lifted restrictions on charter
Despite the obstacles, I remain optimistic about America's capacity for
transformational change. The edifice of education reform may take years to
build. But the Race to the Top starts today.
TOP OF PAGE
Court: Schools can pay to
Taxpayer money may finance funding suit
Josh Verges, Argus Leader, 7/24/09
School districts can finance a legal challenge to the constitutionality of the
state's K-12 education funding system, the South Dakota Supreme Court ruled.
The unanimous decision means lawyers representing the school districts will be
paid for their work and individual school board members no longer face the
threat of having to personally pay back their districts.
It also buoys their hopes that the Supreme Court also will overturn Circuit
Court Judge Lori Wilbur's decision on the underlying case.
In the opinion, Justice Judith Meierhenry cited the U.S. Supreme Court's
landmark desegregation decision on Brown v. Board of Education in writing that
"education is perhaps the most important function of state and local
governments." Scott Abdallah, lead lawyer for the plaintiffs, said
language like that suggests the justices are of the same mind as his clients.
"The Supreme Court certainly underscored the tremendous importance of
public education in South Dakota,"
A group of parents sued in 2006, asking Wilbur to declare K-12 funding to be
inadequate. The South Dakota Coalition of Schools, which received dues from 96
of the state's 168 school districts, intervened and helped pay for the case.
The state threatened to audit the coalition, saying it's illegal for school
districts to sue the state. The coalition then asked the judge for a
declaration that they can, but Wilbur agreed with the state, effectively
cutting off the plaintiffs' funding.
The plaintiffs' lawyers continued working the case anyway and lost a second
time when Wilbur ruled in April that the way the state pays for K-12 education
is constitutional. Abdallah appealed the decision to the Supreme Court earlier
this month; he said he expects oral arguments to take place sometime next year.
Abdallah said the latest ruling is a victory for the little guy. He hopes it
will encourage more school districts to contribute to the lawsuit.
"It underscores that ordinary citizens and democratically elected citizen
school boards have a constitutional right to challenge decisions that are made
by even our most powerful politicians in South
Dakota," he said.
Gov. Mike Rounds frames the controversy as a waste of tax dollars on both ends
of the case.
"The State Supreme Court ruled that local school boards can pay their
lawyers with tax dollars to sue the state," Rounds said in a statement.
"If local school boards want to keep spending even more money on this
lawsuit, I would suggest that they talk to their local taxpayers before writing
more checks to lawyers."
The main legal question this week was whether a subordinate body of government,
such as a school district, can sue its creator. They cannot, in most cases, but
the justices found exceptions by which school districts can ask for an
interpretation of the constitution when funding is at issue.
The justices cautioned that the districts' standing is limited to cases where
they are seeking only a declaratory judgment: A judge can say the state isn't
adequately funding education, but she can't make the Legislature do anything
Rory King, who represents the parents who first filed the lawsuit, said the
ruling gives education lobbyists leverage for future money fights with
"I think it's a real boost for school districts," he said. "Of
course, if they lose the funding case, that will take some of the wind out of
TOP OF PAGE
As Charter Schools
Unionize, Many Debate Effect
Sam Dillon, The New York
Dissatisfied with long hours, churning turnover and, in some cases, lower pay
than instructors at other public schools, an increasing number of teachers at
charter schools are unionizing.
Labor organizing that began two years ago at seven charter schools in Florida
has proliferated over the last year to at least a dozen more charters from
Massachusetts and New York to California and Oregon.
Charter schools, which are publicly financed but managed by groups separate
from school districts, have been a mainstay of the education reform movement
and widely embraced by parents. Because most of the nation’s 4,600 charter
schools operate without unions, they have been freer to innovate, their
advocates say, allowing them to lengthen the class day, dismiss underperforming
teachers at will, and experiment with merit pay and other changes that are
often banned by work rules governing traditional public schools.
“Charter schools have been too successful for the unions to ignore,” said
Elizabeth D. Purvis, executive director of the Chicago International
where teachers voted last month to unionize 3 of its 12 campuses.
President Obama has been especially assertive in championing charter schools.
On Friday, he and the education secretary, Arne Duncan, announced a competition
for $4.35 billion in federal financing for states that ease restrictions on
charter schools and adopt some charter-like standards for other schools — like
linking teacher pay to student achievement.
But the unionization effort raises questions about whether unions will
strengthen the charter movement by stabilizing its young, often transient
teaching force, or weaken it by preventing administrators from firing
ineffective teachers and imposing changes they say help raise achievement, like
an extended school year.
“A charter school is a more fragile host than a school district,” said Paul T.
Hill, director of the Center on Reinventing Public Education at the University of Washington. “Labor unrest in a charter
school can wipe it out fast. It won’t go well for unions if the schools they
organize decline in quality or go bust.”
Unions are not entirely new to charter schools. Teachers at hundreds of charter
schools in Wisconsin, California and elsewhere have long been
union members, not because they signed up, but because of local laws, like those
that extend union status to all schools in a state or district.
Steve Barr, the founder of one large charter network, Green Dot, said his group
operates its 17 charter schools in Los Angeles
and one in the Bronx with union staff because
it makes sense in the heavily unionized environment of public education.
In recent months, teachers have won union recognition at schools including the Boston Conservatory
a school in Brooklyn that is part of the Knowledge Is Power Program, an
Afro-centric school in Philadelphia, four
campuses in the Accelerated School network in Los Angeles,
and a Montessori school in Oregon.
Moves toward unionizing have revealed greater teacher unrest than was
“I was frustrated with all the turnover among staff, with the lack of teacher
input, with working longer and harder than teachers at other schools and
earning less,” said Jennifer Gilley, a social studies teacher at the Ralph
Ellison Campus of the Chicago International Charter School, who said she made
$38,000 as a base salary as a starting teacher, compared with about $43,500
paid by the Chicago Public Schools.
The potential for further unionization of charter schools is a matter of
“They’ll have a success here and there,” said Todd Ziebarth, a vice president
of the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools. “But unionized charters
will continue to be a small part of the movement.”
Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers, called the
gains of the past year “a precursor.”
“You’re going to see far more union representation in charter schools,” Ms.
Weingarten said. “We had a group of schools that were basically unorganized,
groups of teachers wanting a voice, a union willing to start organizing them,
and now money in our organizing budget to back that up. And all of that has
come together in the last 6 to 12 months.”
She quoted Albert Shanker, her union’s founder, as saying charter schools
should be “incubators of good instructional practice.”
“I’m adding to the argument,” Ms. Weingarten said. “Let them be incubators of
good labor practice.”
The largest teachers union, the National Education Association, has no national
charter organizing campaign. But some of its state affiliates have helped
Some recently unionized charters say they are feeling their way forward.
The Knowledge Is Power Program, known as KIPP, which operates 82 mostly
high-performing charter schools nationwide, is facing first-time negotiations
with teachers at its KIPP Amp Academy
in Brooklyn, where teachers this spring won
affiliation with the United Federation of Teachers.
KIPP is also facing demands for higher pay at its high-performing Ujima Village
Academy in Baltimore,
which has been unionized under Maryland
law since its founding.
“Our schools had largely been left alone,” said Steve Mancini, a KIPP
spokesman. “Now we’re getting all this union attention.” One goal KIPP will
seek in negotiations in New York and Baltimore, Mr. Mancini
said, is to preserve the principals’ right to mold their teams.
Whether KIPP can maintain that posture in its negotiations remains to be seen.
Another question is whether the strains of unionization will affect the culture
of collegiality that has helped charter schools prosper.
Here in Chicago, where students at several
Chicago International campuses have scores among the city’s highest for
nonselective schools, teachers began organizing last fall after an
administrator increased workloads to six classes a day from five, said Emily
Mueller, a Spanish teacher at Northtown
“We were really proud of the scores, and still are,” Ms. Mueller said. “But the
workload, teaching 160 kids a day, it wasn’t sustainable. You can’t put out the
kind of energy we were putting out for our kids year after year.”
Some teachers disagreed. Theresa Furr, a second-grade teacher at the Wrightwood
campus, said she opposed unionization.
“Every meeting I went to,” Ms. Furr said, “it was always ‘What can we get?’ and
never ‘How is this going to make our students’ education better?’ ”
For Joyce Pae, an English teacher at Ralph Ellison, the decision was agonizing.
Her concerns over what she saw as chaotic turnover and inconsistency in
allocating merit pay led her to join the drive. But after school leaders began
paying more attention to teachers’ views, she said, she voted against
unionization in June.
Union teachers won the vote, 73-49.
“If nothing else,” Ms. Pae said, “this experience has really helped teachers
TOP OF PAGE
Stealth Education Reform
Beats the Health Debacle
Opinion by Tom Vander Ark, EdReformer.com, 7/26/09
Watching the Sunday morning arguments about health reform, I was struck by how
fortunate we are that Obama's team snuck education reform into the stimulus
bill. While most of the $100 billion for education just partially backfills
cuts, it forced states to acknowledge the Department of Education's priorities
of standards, accountability, and choice. The remaining 5%, nearly $5 billion
in grant programs, will be used to feed the rabbits (the states ready to move)
and won't be held back by the rebel, laggard, and the complacent states. It
sure beats having an education reauthorization fight to go along with the
health care debate.
This week the Department of Education released selection criteria for the $4.3
billion Race to the Top (RTT) program for states. Of the 19 criteria, these
eight form a powerful reform package:
1. Developing and adopting common standards
2. Developing and implementing common, high quality assessments
3. Fully implementing a statewide longitudinal data system
4. Differentiating teacher and principal effectiveness based on performance
5. Ensuring equitable distribution of effective teachers and principals
6. Intervening in the lowest-performing schools and districts
7. Increasing the supply of high-quality charter schools
8. Building strong statewide capacity to implement
Standards. RTT requires states to work together to develop college and career
ready standards. It's crazy that each state has their own. An unintended
consequence of NCLB has been a lowering of standards (to show higher passing
rates). Common standards will encourage investment in next generation content
and new online assessments as well as making it easier to compare performance
across state lines. However, there are lots of ways states and interest groups
could still muck this up.
Assessment. States are encouraged to work together to develop better tests
including those designed to improve teaching and learning. This part of the
proposed language should be more forward leaning--it's a big chance to move
most state testing online and to incorporate adaptive tests that quickly zero
in on a student's learning level.
Data. The ten elements of Data Quality Campaign, pushed for more than five
years by the Gates Foundation, are a required component of the grant. Early
adoption states like Florida
put data to work to narrow the achievement gap. Because most curriculum will
soon be digital, the trick with tests and data will be creating a frame
flexible enough to encourage individual progress rather than lock step age
cohorts. State policy makers should ask, "will this work for virtual
Teacher evaluation. RTT requires that states eliminate any barriers to linking
student achievement data to individual teachers and using it for evaluation,
placement, and compensation. Wow--that's a big deal. But most of the barriers
exist in local contracts and practices. It will be interesting to see if states
can actually make some changes.
Teacher distribution. The grant program requires that teacher effectiveness
data be used to make sure that low-income students get good teachers--easier
said than done. Teacher distribution is a function of local contracts and budgets
and a lot of personal choice. And we're not very good at measuring
effectiveness. The push for alternative certification (which is great)
complicates the desire for equitable distribution--even reform groups have a
hard time agreeing on how to ensure equitable distribution.
Intervention. This is Duncan's
big push--to replace or transform the worst 5,000 schools in the country. The
proposed language for intervention is pretty good but it doesn't require that
bad schools be named. The definition of low-performing doesn't include
graduation rates and it must--how else will we target and replace the 2,000
drop out factories?
Charter schools. States have been scrambling to lift charter caps in
preparation for RTT application--a big early win. There's a nod toward charter
facilities and equal funding but not a strong set of requirements. I'm afraid
charters will continue to get jerked around by local districts.
Capacity. There's nothing controversial about capacity--we just don't have any.
State education offices are thinly staffed to administer the complex codes
their legislatures right. It's too bad the first phase of the grant program
won't open until late 2009 but it is obvious that states will need time to plan
and build support for their plans. None of the states have the program
management staffing to do this right. RTT and foundation grants will help.
Let's hope some of it sticks around after the grants run out.
It's unfortunate that the Department directs that at least half the RTT money
must be distributed to districts based on a federal formula, but it's a about
the only way they can ensure that high need districts get help.
I've been worried that political pressure, probably linked to the health care
debate, would force the Department to spread RTT funds like peanut butter. But
if they stick to the intent of the proposed language, it will be hard for a
senator to make the case that his/her state deserves funding when they just
don't measure up.
Instead of fighting a reauthorization battle, Team Obama is pushing
preauthorization reform. While they will be disappointed in the number and
quality of state applications, a few states will show the way for the rest and
in doing so will reframe the reauthorization debate--and promote equity and excellence
for all American students.
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