Kindergartners at HillcrestElementary
in Elgin sit in a semicircle and discuss ''reading strategies''
with their teacher -- using those words.
A second-grade bilingual class has a bulletin board dedicated to more
sophisticated ''estrategias.'' And by third grade, even students in
the lowest reading group flip through glossaries and talk about fluency
The heavy emphasis on reading has paid off for Hillcrest, which last
year met all the benchmarks set up by the federal No Child Left Behind
Act. But Hillcrest Principal David Wedemeyer says there has been a cost:
Hillcrest students don't spend as much time on other subjects like social
studies as they have in the past.
It's a trend social studies teachers fear will occur in more schools
now that the state has quietly dropped that subject -- along with writing,
fine arts and physical development/health -- from the standardized tests
used to measure schools.
'Only so many hours in a day'
''We only have so many hours in a day, so many days in a year,'' Wedemeyer
said. ''We only have so much time for kids to master certain things,
and society emphasizes math and language arts.''
Math and reading are the dual focus of the 2002 No Child Left Behind
Act, which aims to have all U.S. students performing at or above grade level in those two subjects by
2014. Schools that don't meet an increasingly higher bar each year face
sanctions, from allowing students to transfer out to being taken over
by the state.
Illinois has long tested students in the social sciences, which
include history, politics, economics, social systems and geography.
But lawmakers voted in July to eliminate all state assessments not required
under No Child Left Behind.
The change, made the same day the state budget passed, got little public
'What you treasure, you measure'
Now that the state has stopped measuring progress in social science,
schools struggling to meet the federal law's goals may be less likely
to put scarce resources into teaching history or civics, said Hilary
Rosenthal, a teacher and co- director at the Glenbrook Academy of International
''I think the saying is, 'What you treasure, you measure,''' Rosenthal
Until this year, fourth-graders and seventh-graders were tested in social
science, and the state's high school exam also included the subject.
An analysis of State Report Card data since 1998 shows little change
in the average time elementary and junior high schools report spending
on social science each day. But it also shows some individual schools
failing under the federal standards have cut that time by as much as
At Hillcrest, the change has been small -- four minutes less a day now
than five years ago. But Wedemeyer, who has been principal for seven
years, said that, in the past, teachers carved out a specific time each
day for social studies. Now, they're more likely to incorporate it into
reading or writing lessons.
Last week, a bilingual class was practicing writing in English by completing
a timeline of events in Martin Luther King Jr.'s life.
Such integration, if done well, is a great way to teach social studies
at the elementary level, said Phyllis Henry, president of the Illinois
Council of Social Studies.
Council wants tests back
The problem with dropping the social studies assessment, Henry said,
is that it will be hard for schools to determine whether their integrated
curriculum is working. And that means students will enter junior high
or high school -- where history or economics are separate classes --
with vastly different backgrounds in the subjects.
Other states that have dropped social studies testing have seen the
money and time spent on the subject plummet, Henry said. The social
studies council is pushing for the Legislature to reinstate the Illinois tests.
Becky Watts, a spokeswoman for the State Board of Education, said Illinois schools still are expected to follow the state's standards
for the social sciences, which have not changed.
''It's not an area that schools are going to ignore,'' Watts
said. ''Schools are going to do the right thing.
LA GRANGE -- Brittany's Law, a bill that allows disabled students to participate
in high-school graduation and still have access to state-guaranteed
services, was signed into law Friday by Gov. Rod Blagojevich.
The law was enacted on the heels of a Tribune report in May about Brittany
Booth, 18, a LyonsTownshipHigh
student with Down syndrome.
Officials at the La
school initially told her that accepting a diploma would signify the
end of her schooling and therefore she would forfeit the right to work-training
services guaranteed to disabled students through the age of 21.
Illinois State Board of Education officials previously recommended that
schools give students certificates of completion instead of a diploma
at graduation. But LyonsTownship officials refused, saying they didn't want to treat
disabled students differently.
That changed after state legislators drafted the law in June.
Teachers will learn how to use global views in the classroom
Ernst Lamothe Jr., Champaign News Gazette
Starting Wednesday, the University of Illinois College of Education
will begin a new online master's program aimed at current K-12 teachers.
The two-year program in global studies in education, the third online
master's degree in the college, will educate teachers on how to integrate
global perspectives into their curriculum and lesson plans.
"It is critical given the fact that people are more intertwined
than have been across the country and across the world in the past,"
said Steve Witt, associate director for the UI Center for Global Studies.
"It is a world society that has emerged. Students at all levels
need to understand the changing political context."
Program coordinator Nicole Lamers said it's essential for teachers to
engage in global issues and internationalize their curriculum, especially
after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.
"We're trying to teach in a global perspective rather than looking
at things country by country," she said. "It's looking at
the relationship between countries. It's trying to understand what is
Lamers said topics such as school vouchers and the increased importance
of standardized testing have crossed the United States borders and become issues in other countries. With the
world becoming smaller and more interconnected, educators believe teachers
can't afford to lag behind in their awareness.
"The world is changing at such a rapid pace," Lamers said.
"Teachers have to be prepared to deal with it because students
are facing a different reality than teachers were facing when they were
in high school."
The program, which was discussed for two years, grew out of the UI Center
for Global Studies, which started last year. Officials decided to make
the program online to accommodate teachers from a distance.
"There are a lot of teachers who want to have a master's degree
in global studies, but it was hard for them to travel here," Lamers
Witt believes that a curriculum change as early as grammar school will
have lasting effects throughout students' lives.
"The sooner the students are introduced to the material at an age-appropriate
manner, the better," Witt said. "It is perspective that will
influence the way they think about other subjects. Hopefully, it increases
their engagement in the world around them."
SPRINGFIELD -- A year after telling lawmakers, "We have to
end the practice of giving schools waivers from offering physical education,"
Gov. Rod Blagojevich is willing to consider a plan that would make it
even easier for public schools to skirt the state's daily PE requirement.
In a January 2004 State of the State address that verbally crushed the
state's education bureaucracy, the governor pitched childhood fitness,
proposing a ban on junk food in schools and an end to the practice of
granting PE waivers.
But in a report to the Legislature, the State Board of Education is
suggesting ways to make it easier for schools to get around the nation's
only daily PE requirement. Seven members of that nine-member board were
appointed last fall by Blagojevich.
Blagojevich isn't reversing his position, spokeswoman Rebecca Rausch said.
"It's a matter of phrasing," Rausch said. "Schools should
be required to offer physical activity for the student. That's a practice
the governor firmly believes in. What we're willing to discuss is the
bureaucracy of that."
In the 10 years since the General Assembly started offering school districts
exemptions from state requirements, a quarter of all school districts
226 have received PE waivers.
The Board of Education's annual report on waivers, which also includes
discussions of other exemptions schools often request, suggests changing
state law so schools have more freedom to choose the structure and frequency
of gym class without expending time applying for waivers.
"We're not saying, 'Good, bad, or indifferent'," interim state
schools Superintendent Randy Dunn said. "We're bringing them up
to speed on this issue, that it's used with gusto by some school districts,
and here are the issues around it."
The report says schools that offer classes every other day for longer
periods could provide PE in the same way, and it suggests that exemptions
for students in sports could be expanded to ninth- and 10th-graders
and include cheerleading. Crowded schools could eliminate gym without
an official waiver if they showed classes would be too crowded and also
offered alternatives and limited the amount of time they claimed inadequate
But there's a big difference between football practice and learning
lifelong healthy-living skills, said Ralph Graham, a professor of exercise
science at WesternIllinoisUniversity in Macomb.
"In view of the epidemic of obesity and with higher rates of diabetes
occurring in younger and younger individuals, it's really critical,"
Graham said of PE in schools.
"It's really important that they are doing things that are specifically
geared toward developing lifetime activity habits that are going to
be consistent with good health and not focusing just on sports skills,"
House Republicans last year backed Blagojevich's ideas and pushed legislation
to ban junk food and eliminate PE waivers. Both failed, as did another
measure to limit PE waivers to two years.
GOP Leader Tom Cross of Oswego
will give it another try this year, spokesman David Dring said Monday.
"Our goal is for every school to have PE every day," Dring
In a world filled with uncertainty, it is comforting to know that a
new session of the Illinois General Assembly means that educators and
politicians are again talking about school funding reform.
There have been countless studies of school finance since the 1973 adoption
of the Resource Equalizer Formula. I even participated directly in one
back in 1977. The issues basically are the same today as they were decades
ago. There also is an aspect of honesty that is still missing from the
The simple truth is that increasing school funding, whether by a tax
"swap" (which invariably involves a token tax break compared
to the increase in income taxes) or some other means, is no guarantee
that academic achievement will improve. For educational advocates to
imply otherwise is a fraud that is being perpetrated by repetition rather
than objective analysis.
Much of what needs to be done to improve the quality of education does
not involve more state funding. Parental involvement remains a key factor.
Property-rich districts tend to have better academic outcomes because
parents who pay high property taxes demand academic excellence from
their children and their schools. A similar principle long has existed
with parents who send their kids to parochial schools.
An essential element of parental involvement is family stability. Yet,
more than one third of babies in Illinois (34.8 percent) are born to single mothers. Among blacks,
the figure is a staggering 76.8 percent. The corresponding rate among
Hispanics is 42.8 percent and 26.9 percent among white babies. Simply
throwing money at public schools is not going to address, let alone
solve, this societal problem.
The value people place on education is another vital component. Doing
well in school was considered the pathway to achieving the American
Dream by countless immigrant families. In numerous instances this standard
is still applied within the Asian-American community.
In contrast, we hear leaders like Bill Cosby and Barack Obama exhorting
black youth to ignore attempts by peers to equate academic success with
"acting white." The desire to achieve must be a given.
School discipline and truancy remain problems in many districts. The
very notion that police officers are needed to maintain order is repugnant
to many taxpayers. Increased funds may allow districts to hire more
personnel, but it will have little impact on the underlying lack of
respect for authority that permeates too many of our schools.
There are other policy considerations that have been downplayed by school
reform advocates. They want the state to fund the majority of elementary
and secondary education (or at least substantially increase state support)
while still retaining maximum local control over our schools. This represents
an inherent conflict: Funding and control go hand in hand.
If the state assumes greater fiscal responsibility for public education,
are there any doubts that the state will try to assume greater policy
control as well?
When Gov. Rod Blagojevich attacked the Illinois State Board of Education
in January 2004 as a "Soviet-style bureaucracy," he conveniently
left out a key part of the picture. With nearly 900 local school districts,
the public school system is a bureaucratic morass.
School district boundaries reflect decisions made in the 19th century.
Frequently these boundaries do not reflect post-World War II population
and economic development patterns. The hodge-podge of elementary districts,
high school districts and unit districts adds to the challenge of reforming
Yet, most proposals aimed at consolidating small, inefficient and often
academically inadequate districts generate negative reactions.
Somehow Florida, with 30 percent more schoolchildren than Illinois, manages to survive with only 67 school districts, one
for each county. California, with nearly three times our population and size, only
has slightly more districts (1,056) than our state.
As long as Illinois clings to the notion that every town or suburb needs
its own local school district, there will be funding inequities, and
the prospects for meaningful school finance reform will be limited if
The majority of Illinois residents agree that investing our public dollars in
education is a good thing. However, simply adding billions in state
tax dollars at schools without a firm commitment to a comprehensive
plan for ways to improve academic outcomes will not elicit public support.
The taxpayers of Illinois deserve no less.
The 19 school districts of the South Inter-Conference Association (SICA)
held an emergency two-hour meeting Tuesday in Frankfort to re-examine the 2005-06 realignment amid allegations
But despite pleas from District 205 Supt. Kamala Buckner and District
215 Supt. Bob Wilhite to put the plan on hold for further discussion,
the SICA decided to move forward.
''Some people in the meeting felt their integrity would be questioned
if they were to change things now,'' Buckner said.
The 33-team conference is set to realign into three divisions next fall,
but eight schools -- Rich Central, Rich East, Rich South, T.F. North,
T.F. South, Thornridge, Thornton and Thornwood -- feel the changes segregate
black and white athletes and the rich and the poor.
According to those upset, Interstate 57 represents the Mason-Dixon Line in this case. The new Southeast division is made up
of 68 percent black students. The other two divisions, which are primarily
schools west of I-57, are made up of more than 75 percent white students.
''It's obvious they are segregating by tax base,'' said the Rev. Jesse
Jackson, who was making his first public comments about the topic that
has simmered throughout the south suburbs over the last three weeks.
''People have acknowledged that there is a problem, or else they wouldn't
have met. They are grouping the conferences like Little Rock in 1957.''
While the emergency session was supposed to be for the 19 superintendents,
some administrators sent representatives in their place.
Both Buckner and Wilhite expressed disappointment that the issue had
reached this point, but now there is a chance the state government will
decide the fate of the SICA.
Melissa Merz, spokeswoman for Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan,
confirmed Tuesday that Madigan's office has received information regarding
the issue and is reviewing it before making any statement.
''We have talked to our lawyers, but we'll wait to hear an answer from
Lisa Madigan's office before moving further with anything else,'' Wilhite
The Illinois State Board of Education (ISBE) also is expected to be
involved. An ISBE hearing could be held by the end of February.
''There is an ISBE code that says the state board may get involved if
there is exclusion from an activity,'' Buckner said.
The ISBE code is from Chapter 122, Paragraph 22-19, and states, ''There
must be the names and addresses of at least 50 residents of a school
district alleging that any pupil has been excluded from or segregated
in any school.''
Residents in the communities representing the Southeast division also
have voiced concerns that property values will be affected by the change.
Some believe social economics should have played a role in the changes.
''If this conference realignment happens, it would set us way back,''
said Jenny Conviser, sports psychologist at NorthwesternUniversityMedicalSchool.
''This undermines what people have been fighting for. Sports are supposed
to be enjoyable, not a black vs. white issue.''
SICA president Roberta Berry stressed that the conference followed its
bylaws and used a democratic process.
"But we will abide if we're instructed to by any higher levels,''
Princeton, PutnanCounty schools consider
suing over No Child Left Behind rule Craig Sterrett and Ron
Bluemer, LaSalle NewsTribune, 1/25/05
The Princeton and PutnamCounty school boards both are considering joining a class-action
lawsuit to challenge barely-attainable mandates set up by two federal
One law requires schools to mainstream special-education students or
special-needs students, developing individualized education plans for
them so they can learn at their own pace. Another law punishes schools
if the special-education students don't learn and perform on
tests at the pace expected of students at their age and grade
IN GRANVILLE Superintendent Mike Struna described the possibility
of joining in a lawsuit with OttawaHigh
and several other area schools to challenge certain provisions of the
No Child Left Behind Act passed by Congress.
According to Struna, Putnam County District is one of 200 schools now
on the Early Academic Warning List for failure to improve for the second
year in a row in all categories of students on mandated tests.
PutnamCounty schools actually improved for the last two years, but
the subcategory of special-education students failed to improve in reading
scores. So, Struna explained, the federal government views the district
as failing to meet the federal standards.
If the grades overall and in subgroups fail to meet guidelines in the
future, the penalties can become severe. The district now has to develop
a school-improvement plan to address the current learning deficiencies.
If the subcategories do not reach the specified goals in the next two
years, 20 percent of Title funds may be diverted to pay for special
education tutors. The money is now earmarked for programs that benefit
students from low-income families. In a worse scenario, the state could
replace the school board and take over the operation of the school district.
Several school board members expressed concern about the potential cost
of litigation since only a few schools were asked to participate in
the potential lawsuit. The superintendent explained that the cost to
the district was impossible to determine at this point because it depended
on whether each school would have to pay an equal amount possibly
$7,000-$8,000 or if school contributions to the legal fees would
be based on enrollment. If the latter choice were made, PutnamCountys costs would be considerably less.
Struna said, We have to be careful about our maximum contribution.
The board authorized Struna to pursue the matter at a meeting at OttawaHigh School on March 1 and to report back to the board.
Another option discussed by the board was the possibility of opting
out of the requirements by not accepting federal grants, which account
for about $200,000. Struna commented, I cannot see this district
foregoing these funds.
Inquiries with federal officials seem to indicate that the federal government
has no intention of backing down on the current requirements, and, in
fact, may be planning to impose additional stipulations.
In PRINCETON Worries about legal costs have prevented some
area school districts from joining OttawaHigh Schools lawsuit over the federal No Child Left Behind
But Princeton grade school board president Steve Bouslog worries about
the costs of not taking a stand on the legal issue.
Some neighboring districts put the costs of joining the lawsuit at $10,000.
But we have at risk the loss of all Title I funding if we are
unable to comply with No Child Left Behind, Bouslog said,
after the boards meeting Monday.
The district could lose $120,000, by Bouslogs estimate, in Title
I funding as a punishment if elementary school special-education students
test scores caused the district to fail to meet Adequate Yearly Progress
under the NCLB. Special education test scores district-wide have caused
the school to miss AYP previously.
The NCLB law basically regards special education students or any student
with an individualized education plan as a subgroup, like minorities
or children from low-income homes.
Contrary to an article Monday in a Peoria newspaper, the Princeton board did not vote Monday night to join a class-action suit over two
conflicting and contradictory federal laws on education. But the Princeton board is not dropping the issue.
Well tackle the financing when we choose to do it (sue the
state and federal governments) or not, Princeton schools superintendent James Whitmore said.
are trying to lead a lawsuit against wording in the NCLB law which requires
special-education students, basically, to achieve at grade-level expectations
for students their age. That flies in the face of the federal Individuals
with Disabilities in Education Act, which requires public schools to
develop individualized education plans for special-education students
and to allow the students to achieve at their own pace.
During Mondays meeting, Whitmore said he and the school board
members have had an opportunity to review as much of the information
about the lawsuit, and the information has been forwarded to the Princeton schools
We do not have the information back and I would suggest to the
board we do not have enough information to approve (joining in the lawsuit),
Whitmore told the board.
The board decided to wait for a briefing from the attorney before deciding
on the issue.
Eighteen students at FremdHigh School in Palatine are facing disciplinary action after they were caught
cheating on a final exam, district officials said Tuesday.
Palatine-Schaumburg High School District 211 spokesman Tom Petersen
said due to confidentially issues, only a few details could be released.
He did confirm that the cheating took place last week while students
were taking final exams.
Petersen would not say in what class the incident took place, in an
attempt not to imply guilt on all of the students when only 18 were
accused of having cheated.
How a student was able to obtain a copy of the test before the exam
date and how it was distributed to other members of the class were also
details Petersen said he could not release. Those details, he said,
could identify the students involved.
Petersen would not give information on what punishment the students
are facing. He did say the students will lose credit for the course
in which the cheating occurred.
Other punishments the students could face, according to the district's
academic integrity policy, include suspension or expulsion.
"It is not like we have a history of this," Petersen said.
"But if it does happen, the students will receive the appropriate
A copy of the policy can be viewed on the district's Web site at www.d211.org.
parents who petitioned against the use of a noise monitor in the lunchroom
may have reached a compromise with Principal Brenda Sand.
The Batavia principal agreed to keep it at a consistent level, no
additional punishments be rendered other than the one-minute timeouts,
and to address it in the student handbook.
"Hopefully, we can put this issue to a rest," Sand said.
Nine parents in the Batavia school district met with Sand Monday and discussed several
issues surrounding the "talk light." The 8-foot-tall device
looks like a stoplight and turns from green to yellow and, eventually,
red if children are too loud in the lunchroom.
If that happens, students must eat in silence for one minute.
More than 140 parents, who signed a petition, asked that the talk light
be removed or its level turned down so it would not turn red so often.
Petitions were dropped off at the school administration offices recently,
and parent Jamie Faber was pleased to report at Tuesday's school board
meeting that the number of times the talk light was activated has decreased.
She also voiced dismay at the school board and administration's indifference
to their concerns.
"We want to leave with you tonight a request both as a parent and
taxpayer: Please respond to issues that parents bring to you,"
Since mid-December, Sand had tweaked the talk light to a setting the
parents and school appear happy with.
"It seems to address their concerns, and yet it has not allowed
the behavior to escalate to the point where it has caused a problem
in our lunchroom," Sand said.
Since Christmas break, the talk light has turned red 12 times the first
week, 11 times the second and 4 times last week. Parents find the results
more reasonable than before, when Sand was still experimenting with
From reports of students, parents say the talk light has gone off as
many as 74 times in a given week, which they found ludicrous. Four times
a week is more acceptable, parents said.
If Sand wants to change the setting, she now plans to inform parents
ahead of time.
An upcoming project should further reduce the noise and beautify the
lunchroom. The school's art teacher plans to create some paint murals
on plywood and hopes to finish one or two in the spring.
"Even though plywood also will reflect sound, it will absorb more
sound than cinderblock," Sand said.
A quick test to determine how much we know about early childhood education:
A quality preschool program
A. Ensures kids are ready to learn when they get to kindergarten.
B. Means a kid is more likely to graduate from high school and get a
C. Returns as much as $17 for every dollar spent.
D. Makes it less likely a kid will end up on welfare or in prison.
E. All of the above.
The answer, of course, is E. All of those facts have been proven in
studies over and over again.
Now there's a new fact: Child care and preschool is big business in
Illinois -- employing the equivalent of 56,000 full-time workers
and ringing up $2.1 billion in gross income annually. Those stunning
statistics are the highlight of the latest report on the benefits we
reap when we take care of our youngest, most vulnerable citizens. The
report, "The Economic Impact of the Early Care and Education Industry
in Illinois," was published by three Chicago-based advocacy
organizations, Chicago Metropolis 2020, Action for Children and the
Illinois Facility Fund.
Monday's unveiling drew a crowd of child care advocates -- along with
a sprinkling of business leaders. And that, said Maria Whelan, president
of Action for Children and a tireless fighter for young children, is
the point. "There are not a lot of people who don't get this [that
investing in young children is good public policy] anymore," she
said. But if the report focused on the benefits of educating kids, rather
than the economic muscle of an industry, its release would not have
captured the attention of the business community, she said.
And the "early care and education," industry has some muscle.
In terms of gross income, it ranks right up there with the state's more
politically savvy soybean business. It employs more workers than all
of the hotels, motels and bed and breakfasts in the state.
The report noted that those are conservative estimates. Add in the nannies,
baby-sitters and relatives who provide informal child care, and the
number of employees rises to 77,000. Add in the child care homes, the
money spent on supplies and other related expenditures, and the early
care and education industry contributes far more than $2.1 billion to
the state's economy.
Why is this more important than knowing that investing in a child's
preschool development can benefit him -- and therefore, all of us --
for a lifetime? Because some folks need to hear every argument in terms
of the economy, market value and return on investment.
"This reframes the argument in business terms," said state
Sen. Don Harmon, (D-OakPark), a staunch supporter of early childhood education initiatives.
Once early care and education is seen as an industry, it can be included
in discussions about economic development issues -- rather than just
being seen as an education issue. In addition, the industry can advocate
for support for its infrastructure needs -- everything from remodeled
classrooms to new buildings -- just as a manufacturer does.
Gov. Blagojevich has long been a supporter of early childhood education.
He is expected to keep doing things right next month when he announces
his budget plan for yet another revenue-challenged year. Harmon said
he expects Blagojevich to find another $30 million for early childhood
education, fulfilling a pledge made when he became governor to come
up with $90 million in additional preschool money in three years.
But it's never easy. The problem, as Blagojevich's director of education
reform, Elliott Regenstein, put it so well, is that when there is no
new money, every additional dollar has to come from another program
and "there's someone holding on that dollar on the other side."
This study gives legislators a little more leverage for taking away
that dollar -- even from recipients who can't claim such high returns
on our taxpayer investment. There is no time to waste, Whelan said.
"Only once are you 3 years old; only once are you 4. If we miss
these critical years, we are going to pay later."
For months, advocates of early childhood education have been buzzing
that Gov. Rod Blagojevich plans to announce a bold initiative to vastly
expand public schooling for preschoolers--provided he finds the funding
In recent years, studies on the brain and how it develops most rapidly
in the earliest years of life have forced us to change the way we regard
learning. A major state initiative is the appropriate response. Education
must begin far sooner than kindergarten. It has to begin at birth.
Here in Illinois, at least a third of all schoolchildren begin kindergarten
unprepared. Why? Because too many parents think all that's needed before
kindergarten is baby-sitting. By the time these kids start school, they
don't know their numbers or their colors. They arrive using only a handful
of words. They don't know how to play constructively, or how to learn.
And that makes it harder for them to succeed later.
Around the nation, lawmakers generally have been slow to respond. Only
Georgia and Oklahoma have dipped their big toes into the universal preschool
world, theoretically making it available to any 4-year-old who needs
In the 1990s, Illinois legislators ushered in an unprecedented expansion of
early childhood education, prompted in part by the work requirements
of welfare reform. Other funding also helped improve the quality of
existing child care and preschool programs, and expanded the availability
of all-day, all-year preschool for low-income working parents. A critical
11 percent portion of the state early childhood block grant money provides
state-funded programs for infants, toddlers and their families. That
makes advocates in other states view Illinois with envy.
Blagojevich is now in a position to take Illinois' commitment to an even higher level and make his state
the premier model in this nation for how to best prepare children for
The Tribune has learned that a special commission assembled by Blagojevich,
the Illinois Early Learning Council, is about to recommend that preschool
be made available to every 3- and 4-year-old whose family wants it,
regardless of income. It's estimated that parents of 60 percent of Illinois 4-year-olds, and of half of 3-year-olds, would take
advantage of such an offer.
The council's hope is that the governor also would continue to allocate
a significant--perhaps even larger than the current 11 percent--share
to infant and toddler care as well, because, according to the late Irving
Harris, a leading thinker and investor in early childhood education,
even starting at age 3 is often too late.
The council also will propose to the governor that preschool teachers
have at least bachelor's degrees and that program standards be established
and enforced to ensure quality.
Blagojevich's staffers acknowledge that this agenda is under discussion,
but haven't divulged what, if anything, he will propose.
These are radical ideas that make enormous sense. Copious research shows
that perhaps the smartest public investment a state can make, with the
loudest bang for the buck, is in quality early childhood programs.
Economist Art Rolnick, director of research at the Federal Reserve Bank
of Minneapolis, argues that $1 invested in early childhood yields a
$16 return over time--in lower welfare costs, less special education,
less crime, greater likelihood of finishing college, higher lifetime
As "big ideas" go, this would be an excellent one for Blagojevich
to choose, even if it has to be phased in over time. An agenda this
ambitious will require creative funding. But measured by the thousands
of lives it would improve, the effort would be well worth it.
Thank you for your recent story on the Blagojevich administration's
lack of progress in updating per-pupil funding levels to provide Illinois students with a quality education.
Your story mentioned that Gov. Rod Blagojevich's administration increased
education funding by $154 per pupil in its fiscal year 2005 budget,
but in reality, this $154 is a mere $2 more than the cost of inflation
for the year, according to the Consumer Price Index data issued by the
U.S. Bureau of Economic Impact.
This "increase" barely covers inflation. What's more, schools
still receive nearly $1,000 less per student than the minimum amount
recommended by the Education Funding Advisory Board in 2002, when that
recommendation is adjusted for increases in inflation.
The failure to update and meet the minimum school funding amount set
by the state is a serious detriment to the quality of education schools
can deliver to Illinois' children.
The state of Illinois is grossly behind in providing adequate school funding.
Right now, we are barely keeping up with rising costs; every day that
passes, we are falling further behind.
We must do a better job of funding education in Illinois, lest we shortchange our children's future, and the
future vitality of our state.
Police and school officials are investigating reports that a substitute
teacher at an elementary school on the South Side taped shut the eyes
and mouths of 2nd graders earlier this week.
Students told the principal at EsmondElementary School,
1865 W. Montvale Ave., that the substitute verbally abused at least 10 children
and then covered their eyes and mouths with tape early Tuesday afternoon.
The teacher has been temporarily taken off the substitute teacher list,
said Michael Vaughn, a school district spokesman.
"She is entitled to an investigatory conference with the labor
relations department," he said. "After that, we could discharge
her from the substitute [teacher] database."
He said a letter to the substitute teacher was being drafted Thursday
As the news continued to spread around the school Thursday, Becky Jenkins,
who has a child at the school, asked, "What is wrong with that
lady?" She called the alleged behavior "medieval" and
said "that is totally unacceptable."
Students traded different stories of what the substitute teacher allegedly
did. Several said she told the students to "shut up" and then
she taped some of the eyes and mouths of the students. Some students
got worse treatment than others, several students said. One child had
his mouth taped four times, they said.
On Wednesday morning, students informed their regular teacher about
the abuse they had received the day before. She then told the principal,
Chapman reported it to the police and the Department of Children and
Family Services. She also sent the substitute teacher home Wednesday
when she reported for work at the school.
Vaughn said it was later in the day that the principal found out that
the students' mouths and eyes had been taped.
Chapman declined to comment Thursday, but she sent a letter home to
parents. In it, she wrote:
"Allegedly, the substitute teacher was unprofessional in the classroom.
The substitute teacher was immediately removed from the building after
notification of alleged wrongdoing."
She said the school had arranged for counseling services for the children,
"to allow an opportunity for those affected to talk about their
thoughts and feelings."
Police from a special unit that handles crimes involving children are
investigating the incident, according to police spokesman Sgt. Robert
No charges have been filed.
DCFS, which has initiated its own investigation, has not had prior contact
with the teacher or EsmondElementary
according to agency spokeswoman Diane Jackson.
Like all substitutes, the teacher had gone through the process of having
a state and FBI background check and had a clean record, Vaughn said.
She went on the active substitute teaching list on Nov. 24 and had about
one dozen assignments since then, mostly in high schools, Vaughn said.
PEORIA - A day after he allegedly fired three shots in a crowded
high-school hallway, a WoodruffHigh
freshman faced felony charges that could send him to prison for up to
Dione D. Alexander, 15, of 816 W. McClure Ave. shuffled into the third-floor courtroom at the Peoria
County Courthouse, dressed in the white sweatshirt and blue pants worn
by teens at the JuvenileDetentionCenter.
He sat glumly and quietly as Associate Judge Albert Purham Jr. told
him he was being charged as an adult. Specifically, Alexander was charged
with aggravated discharge of a firearm in a school, unlawful use of
weapons and reckless discharge of a firearm, all felonies.
After hearing a brief recitation of facts by AssistantState's Attorney David Kenny, the judge ordered Alexander
held on $1 million bond. That means he'd have to post 10 percent, or
$100,000, to get out of jail.
Alexander allegedly fired a gun at another youth Wednesday morning as
classes emptied into the hallway. Kenny told the judge the two had a
"The defendant then handed his books to someone else and pulled
a gun," Kenny said.
The intended victim then tried to knock the gun away from Alexander,
to no avail.
No one was injured in the shooting. The high school and nearby LincolnMiddle
immediately went into lockdown until authorities gave the all-clear
Police arrested Alexander later at a house that is not in the vicinity
of the school after several students and the intended victim identified
him as the shooter, court records show. Police did recover some shell
casings at the scene.
"To be the best of my knowledge, police are still looking for the
gun," Kenny said.
Alexander was on probation for a misdemeanor conviction for attempted
unlawful possession of a controlled substance. He had been charged in
Peoria County Juvenile Court with felony drug possession charges but
pleaded down to a misdemeanor.
As part of that plea, he was ordered to spend 15 months on probation
and to take anger management counseling.
He also was found guilty in 2003 of unlawful possession of a stolen
motor vehicle, a felony. He also received probation and was ordered
to participate in the county's Drug
program, where the emphasis is on rehabilitation and treating the problem
of addiction rather than punishment.
Alexander's case will now likely be bound over to the grand jury, which
convenes every Thursday. If convicted of the more serious offense of
aggravated discharge of a firearm, Alexander could face a mandatory
prison sentence of not less than six years nor more than 30 years.
A Springfield school bus driver was charged Thursday with driving
under the influence.
He was seen driving an empty bus after a bank teller reported smelling
alcohol on his breath, police said.
Johnnie E. Eveans, 42, of the 800 block of South 14th Street was suspended from his job without pay pending completion
of an investigation, according to a representative of Laidlaw Education
Services, which transports District 186 students.
Police said Eveans had finished his morning route and drove the bus
to Marine Bank, 2136
E. Cook St.,
to make a transaction. After he left at about , the teller notified an off-duty police officer working security in the
bank that the man had a strong smell of alcohol on his breath.
The officer looked outside and saw the man get into an empty Laidlaw
school bus and start to drive away. The officer stopped Eveans before
he left the parking lot. After a short investigation, he was arrested
on suspicion of DUI.
Doris Shelton, Springfield branch manager for Laidlaw, said the company has a strict
policy pertaining to alcohol use.
We have zero tolerance, she said. Anyone who is found
under the influence driving any of our vehicles or coming to work under
the influence is automatic termination. That goes for all of our staff
and mechanics, too.
Shelton would not reveal which route Eveans drives.
According to SangamonCounty court records, Eveans only other run-ins with
the law before Wednesday were traffic tickets for speeding and not wearing
a seat belt in March 1996. He received court supervision and a fine
for speeding. The seat-belt ticket was dismissed.
No Child Left Behind
is here to stay
Opinion by Denis Doyle and Jason Palmer, Fort Worth Star-Telegram, 1/23/05
(Denis Doyle is the co-founder and chief academic officer and Jason
Palmer is a vice president of SchoolNet Inc. The company provides Web-based
instructional management software and support services for school districts.)
Three years ago this month, President Bush signed the most far-reaching
education legislation in half a century, felicitously titled the No
Child Left Behind Act (NCLB) of 2002. Not since Lyndon B. Johnson's
Great Society has there been a vision of the federal role so sweeping
Indeed, it is easy to make the case that NCLB is even more daring than
Johnson's original Elementary and Secondary Education Act, which at
least paid lip service to local control.
NCLB makes no concessions: If you want Uncle Sam's money, you must play
by Uncle Sam's rules. With NCLB, you can run, but you can't hide.
The reality that NCLB is here to stay is doubly ironic. The first irony
is that it is brought to you compliments of the conservative ascendancy.
The second irony is that most people like it -- which might help explain
the first irony. Indeed, how can anyone oppose so high-minded an idea
as leaving no child behind?
So what are the results? Three years into NCLB, are fewer children being
Although critics are numerous, according to one study done by the Education
Trust ("Measured Progress: Achievement Rises and Gaps Narrow, But
Too Slowly," October 2004) an honest assessment is that "in
an overwhelming majority of states gaps are narrowing while performance
is up for all groups of students." That's ed-speak for good news.
The Education Trust studied math and reading results in 24 states and
found 23 showing improvement in math and 15 in reading. However, 24,000
schools (or 25 percent of the total) did not meet Adequate Yearly Progress
(AYP) in 2004. Even setting aside debates about the quality of tests
or whether a value-added metric would be a better indicator. that is
a very large number of schools needing improvement.
That said, something phenomenal is happening in the background. We are
witnessing a sweeping cultural change in the business of education.
The growth of information technology (IT) in K-12 education is permitting
schools to move from anecdotes and hunches to evidence-based decision-making.
This cultural shift has even brought about changes in district leadership.
Eduventures, an education market research firm, estimates that 65 percent
of large school districts now have CIOs, formerly a business-only role,
which is becoming vital to effective education. Armed with data warehousing
and instructional management solutions, these CIOs are changing the
face of accountability and diagnostics from a personality-driven art
to a data-driven enterprise.
Armed with detailed student performance information at the district
and campus levels, superintendents and principals can allocate resources
more effectively. Armed at the classroom level, teachers can use detailed
student portfolios to deliver individualized instruction.
With modern IT, data is no longer a club with which to humiliate schools,
teachers and students. Instead, it is a tool to improve performance
Measuring student performance is the hot-button issue of NCLB. But there
are tests, and there are tests. The best tests are "embedded"
in instruction, giving both teacher and student instantaneous, useful
and accurate feedback.
Philadelphia is a case in point. Using regular benchmark tests to
gauge student achievement, teachers there have raised test scores across
the board and are closing the achievement gap. Of Philadelphia's 265 schools, 160 met AYP standards this year vs. only
58 schools the year before.
In school districts large and small, IT is a necessary, if not sufficient,
precondition for school improvement.
Although testing is the bane of teachers and students, a "good
test" is one that measures what it purports to measure accurately,
unobtrusively and rapidly. As every teacher and student knows, there
is no better "teachable moment" than the epiphany experienced
when a misunderstanding is instantly corrected. Eureka!
Ambitious, radical and visionary it may be, but NCLB is here to stay.
Although fine-tuning is inevitable in the next few years, NCLB will
not go away.
The challenge -- and opportunity -- that our schools and students face
is making it work. The final jury may still be out, but the trend lines
are moving in the right direction. TOP OF PAGE
Missouri lowers testing goals Mike Sherry, The Kansas City Star
Missouri education officials Friday significantly lowered test-score
targets that the state's public school children will be expected to
meet this year to comply with a federal law.
The revision, which the U.S. Department of Education has approved at
the request of state officials, has major implications for the state's
2,034 public schools, because failure to meet the proficiency standards
can trigger federal No Child Left Behind Act penalties.
Under the new 2005 targets announced by the state Department of Elementary
and Secondary Education, 26.6 percent of students will have to be proficient
in communication arts, down from 38.8 percent. The math proficiency
standard dropped to 17.5 percent from 31.1 percent.
It is unclear how many schools the change will affect.
The Kansas Board of Education has no plans to change its schedule for
the state's proficiency benchmarks, said Kathy Toelkes, a spokeswoman
for the Kansas Department of Education.
Many Missouri educators had worried that the previous 2005 targets
were unachievable, especially because they represented significant increases
from last year's levels. The targets were established in a plan that
the state had to have approved by federal officials.
Mindful of the concerns about meeting the targets, the state sought
the revision from the federal government, said state education spokesman
We were afraid that teachers and schools would just throw up their
hands and say there was no way to meet the targets that were initially
set out, Morris said.
Those comments were echoed by Brent Ghan, a spokesman for the Missouri
School Boards' Association, and several administrators in the metropolitan
The new targets, Ghan said, are considerably more reasonable
and should be reachable for more schools.
Grandview School District Superintendent John Martin agreed.
Some of our schools were ready (to make the higher leap). Some
were going to struggle. I think it is a good thing right now. It will
help give more schools an opportunity to win.
Setting up criteria in which you're predestined to fail is not
a good thing.
The announcement of the revisions came Friday midafternoon, and Kansas CitySchool
spokesman Edwin Birch said the appropriate district officials were unavailable
Asked whether he thought administrators were breathing a sigh of relief,
Ghan said, I don't think I would say that. The targets will still
be extremely challenging to meet.
SummitSchool District is in a different boat.
It has been shooting for the old 2005 targets for the past couple of
years. As a result, in 2004, the district was only two percentage points
away, said Pete Muenks, director of testing and assessment.
With the enactment of the No Child Left Behind Act three years ago,
student test scores on the Missouri Assessment Program took on heightened
importance. Under the law, students across the country are required
to be proficient in math and reading by 2014.
Schools that fail to progress sufficiently from year to year can be
labeled as needing improvement.
In the case of schools that receive Title 1 money for low-income students,
repeated failure to make adequate yearly progress can force schools
to take a variety of corrective measures, including offering students
a chance to transfer to a different school and having to provide supplemental
services such as tutoring.
Dade suit over
school funding falters
A lawsuit challenging how Florida
funds large urban school districts remained alive, although barely,
after a judge threw out key provisions.
BY GARY FINEOUT, Miami Herald, 1/25/05
TALLAHASSEE - A bid by the Miami-Dade school district to undo the
way the state doles out money for public schools was seriously damaged
Monday after a Tallahassee judge threw out most of the district's lawsuit.
The district first went to court over the summer, after the Florida
Legislature reduced the amount of money that Miami-Dade and other South
Florida counties traditionally received to help pay for higher living
costs. The change in the funding method has helped direct millions more
to counties such as Orange,
Leon and Duval, the home county of former Senate President
Jim King, who was instrumental in altering the formula.
Lawmakers directed that the change take place, but they never actually
passed a law spelling out the new way to hand out money to schools.
In its lawsuit, Miami-Dade attorneys maintained that by doing it that
way, legislators violated the state Constitution and that the state
Department of Education lacked the authority to parcel out the state's
$15 billion public schools budget differently than it had in years past.
But Circuit Court Judge P. Kevin Davey sided with lawyers hired by the
Legislature, throwing out two of the three parts of the lawsuit. Davey
ruled that changing the cost-of-living formula did not violate the state's
requirement that school funding be done in a uniform way. He also ruled
that legislators did not use the state budget to change a stand-alone
law, which is also prohibited by the state Constitution.
The judge accepted the premise that lawmakers had simply endorsed a
change proposed by economists working on behalf of the Department of
Education, even though there was substantial legislative debate about
the proposal and plenty of hard-ball politics behind it: King demanded
the formula change in exchange for supporting proposals pushed by then-House
Speaker Johnnie Byrd to slash gas taxes and boost pay for correctional
officers and highway troopers.
The judge, however, kept alive a portion of the lawsuit that questions
whether the Department of Education had the authority to alter how it
hands out the state money without changing state law first.
Davey said the new formula is a ''major change'' and that it was unclear
whether the Legislature intended such a change.
In order to answer that question, Davey said that both sides in the
dispute must hold another hearing, complete with witnesses.
One of the lawyers representing the Legislature was pleased with Monday's
''We're chewing away at it,'' said W.C. Gentry, a Jacksonville attorney. ``I think we're in good shape.''
Jack McLean, one of the lawyers for the Holland & Knight law firm
representing Miami-Dade schools, said the fact that Davey concedes the
alteration of the formula is a major change gives the county hope that
it can still prevail in the lawsuit.
Both Miami-Dade and Broward school districts received $16 million less
this year under the new cost-of-living formula than they would have
under the old version.
Stepping up his campaign against the governor's proposal for education
spending in the coming budget year, California's
elected schools chief called for higher taxes Monday as the best means
to "stop starving our schools."
Supt. of Public Instruction Jack O'Connell, in his second annual "state
of education" speech, painted a dark picture of the state's school-finance
system, linking students' poor performance, when measured against those
in other states, with its near-bottom ranking in school spending.
"We have created world-class expectations for our students and
schools in California, but we simply aren't funding our schools at the level
they need to produce world-class results," O'Connell said. "California is not investing in its future."
O'Connell and other Democratic elected officials have been criticizing
Republican Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger's budget plan, which was unveiled
earlier this month. They are urging parents, teachers and others to
protest the governor's proposal to provide schools with about $2.3 billion
less than they are entitled to under Proposition 98, a voter-approved
initiative that guarantees a minimum amount of the state budget for
To help the then-new governor close a record budget deficit last year,
education leaders agreed to forgo about $2 billion in Proposition 98
money. Schwarzenegger promised that he would give schools the full amount
due this year but changed his mind when he realized that the state was
still facing a large deficit. O'Connell and other Democrats have urged
the governor to raise tax rates on the wealthiest Californians, who
have benefited most from federal tax cuts.
The governor, however, has stuck by another promise not to raise
taxes and his aides said he is unwilling to gut healthcare and
other social services to the poorest Californians to provide more money
to schools in the 2005-06 budget year.
As it is, the governor's budget calls for an increase in education spending
but not as much as promised.
"The budget problem the governor has inherited was not caused by
Californians being taxed too little," said H.D. Palmer, the governor's
spokesman on the budget, "but by a spending system that is driving
the state to spend money it doesn't have."
Palmer said the wealthiest Californians pay 73% of the state's personal
income taxes. "It's not as if we are not taxing high-income people,"
On Monday, O'Connell repeated his call for full Proposition 98 funding
and urged voters to back an initiative now in the planning stages
that would lower the margin of approval for local parcel taxes
for schools from two-thirds to 55%. The measure would give school districts
a way to raise money for teacher salaries, smaller classes and textbooks.
Schwarzenegger has not taken a position on the parcel tax proposal,
Even with a 25% increase in per-pupil spending significantly
less than the governor proposes California would remain behind several other states, including
New York, New Jersey and Wisconsin, O'Connell said.
By not providing schools with adequate budgets, O'Connell said, "we
are setting our students up for failure. I believe Californians will
refuse to do that."
In a wide-ranging, 45-minute speech in Sacramento, O'Connell also reiterated his earlier call for free
preschool for all 4-year-olds, at an estimated cost of $2 billion to
He also announced that he would form a special advisory council to align
instruction from preschool through college, and promised to continue
his push for high school reforms and for measures to combat childhood
Among other measures aimed at improving students' health, O'Connell
said, he wants to expand a statewide ban on sodas in public elementary
and middle schools to high schools.
STAUNTON, Va. -- Lunch is over and some classes already are at recess
when a group of schoolchildren at McSwain Elementary stands up, puts
on coats, walks 200 feet across the playground and files into MemorialBaptistChurch.
Over the next half-hour, the Bible shapes the lesson plan.
The children pray, sing and play games with a Christian theme. In one
class, 12 third-graders hear a story and pray to Jesus, repenting for
acting "growly." In another, third-graders eagerly offer 24
names for Jesus. They praise the Lord in song: "You're my savior,
you're my messiah." They bow their heads and repeat the Lord's
Then they don their coats again, leave the church and trek back to rejoin
the few classmates whose parents declined to enroll their children in
the weekday religious classes.
The scene is repeated with different groups of children four times a
day, each Monday and Wednesday, at McSwain and three other public elementary
schools in Staunton.
For 65 years, weekday Bible classes have been part of the fabric of
growing up in this town of 24,000 in AugustaCounty and in a score of other small towns and hamlets in rural
Virginia. It is such an accepted tradition that 80 to 85 percent
of the first-, second- and third-graders in Staunton participate.
But now, the practice is being challenged by a group of parents who
have asked the School Board to end or modify weekday religious education.
Not only do they fear that their children are stigmatized for not attending,
but in a decidedly 21st-century twist, they also argue that interrupting
class for Bible study hinders efforts to meet state and national standards
for test scores.
"I just think a Christian outreach program doesn't belong in the
school day," said Beverly Riddell, one of several parents who protested
to the School Board. "The bar is being raised on both the [Standards
of Learning] and No Child Left Behind. Overall, we're doing great on
the SOLs, but there are still children who are failing them. That means
we're in some sense failing them."
The issue has stirred passions in this otherwise tranquil town off Interstate
81 that is the birthplace of Woodrow Wilson.
More than 400 people attended a recent School Board meeting that lasted
four hours, until everyone had a say. Many said after-school Bible classes
would be impractical because they would conflict with the schedules
of working parents. More than 1,000 residents signed a petition urging
the School Board to continue the weekly Bible classes in the middle
of the school day.
"If they flout the will of the people in the community, we'll schedule
a recall election, and we'll kick them out," said Jack Hinton,
head of a group affiliated with the Virginia Council of Churches that
funds and administers the classes. "We have a small core of a group
philosophically opposed to any connection between religiosity and schools.
They're articulate and persuasive, but they are in the minority."
Bible classes in public schools were once common across the nation.
The first proponents in the early years of the last century were liberal
Protestant reformers who believed Christianity would mitigate the evils
of segregation and war, according to Jonathan Zimmerman, author of "Whose
America? Culture Wars in the Public Schools."
In Virginia, weekday religious education gained momentum in the
1920s when a majority of high school students flunked a simple Bible
test. The first classes were held in the Washington region in 1929 in Arlington and Fairfax counties.
For decades, the lessons were conducted inside public school classrooms.
But in its 1948 decision McCollum v. Board of Education, the Supreme
Court ruled that the lessons violated the principle of separation of
church and state. Amid criticism that it was atheistic, the court returned
to the issue four years later in Zorach v. Clauson. That decision approved
classes held away from school premises, ruling that the practice might
be unwise from an educational viewpoint but that to prevent it would
be hostile to religious freedom.
Over the years, the classes' popularity dwindled. Today, weekday Bible
classes are held in about 20 locations throughout Virginia. Almost all are in rural communities along the I-81
According to the Virginia Council of Churches, 12,073 students are enrolled,
including some in Waynesboro and NaturalBridge and RockinghamCounty.
Even there, they are coming under increasing pressure as once-homogenous
areas grow more diverse, attracting newcomers who come from different
countries and traditions, or from urban areas where the practice was
abandoned long ago.
At first incredulous, many of those newcomers turn to the American Civil
"One of the most common calls we receive comes from people who've
moved from other states, particularly north of Virginia, into rural
communities in southwest Virginia," said Kent Willis, director
of the ACLU's Virginia chapter. "They call and ask, 'Is this legal?'
They've never experienced it before."
After explaining Zorach, Willis asks for details on how the program
is run to ensure that it meets the legal test. Teachers cannot encourage
participation, for example. But few ever pursue the issue.
"These are close-knit communities," he said. "Even if
they object, they understand they will generate a lot of controversy
and be fairly unpopular as a result."
Opponents in Staunton were emboldened after the School Board in nearby Harrisonburg voted in August to end weekday religious classes that
had existed for 75 years.
Citing tougher academic achievement standards, the board said students
needed to spend the 30 minutes a week set aside for Bible classes boning
up for achievement tests.
In the ensuing weeks, several Staunton parents contacted School Board members and suggested
that they follow suit. A decision is expected in mid-February.
School officials say they are confident that they meet the constitutional
At the beginning of each school year, students take permission slips
home that must be signed by their parents if they wish to attend. Program
volunteers escort the children to and from classes -- held in churches
or mobile homes adjacent to the schools. Teachers' salaries are paid
through contributions from churches, and the curriculum is fashioned
to reinforce lessons in SOL guidelines.
"We don't participate or encourage participation," said Harry
Lunsford, the superintendent of schools. Children who do not attend
stay in their classroom to do artwork or remedial studies, he said.
"Generally, new work is not started, because the majority would
fall behind," Lunsford said.
Bible Breaks at Public Schools Face Challenges in Rural Virginia
Some parents say that time is wasted.
"The children left behind in the classroom have nothing meaningful
to do," said Heather Ward, who moved to the area from New York City and has decided not to enroll her young son and daughter
when they start attending school. "It's busywork. Coloring or drawing.
There are some who choose to send their child simply because the alternative
is to be ostracized and just sit there."
Amy Diduch, who teaches economics at MaryBaldwinCollege in Staunton, said she felt fortunate that one-third of the children
in her daughter's first-grade class do not attend.
"We happen to be Christians, but we do not want her to be a part
of excluding other children," she said. "They get worksheets
to do. She tolerates them, but they're not advancing her education.
What bothers me is that the ones left behind are at a loss for additional
Supporters say the classes encourage model behavior that benefits everyone.
"The basis is definitely Christian, but it's not fire and brimstone,"
said Andrea Oakes, who has enrolled two of her three children in the
classes. "The teachings are more history, geography and character-building.
It's about learning to be a good person, a good citizen, even good manners.
It teaches children not to lie, steal or cheat, and to abide by the
law. It's a program that has worked well for our city."
David Cook, who enjoyed the classes as a child and now has enrolled
his son, said the program is not so time-consuming that it hurts academics.
"It equates to six minutes a day of school time," he said.
"How that would be detrimental to standards of learning, it's hard
for me to fathom."
Charles C. Haynes, a senior scholar at the Freedom Forum's FirstAmendmentCenter in Arlington, said schools attempting to follow the spirit of the
law need to ensure that children who opt out are not neglected.
"Parents ought to pressure the school to make sure their kids get
the attention they deserve," he said. "It's not time off for
teachers. If teachers are doing their job, the parents should be celebrating
because their kids get extra academic help."
James Harrington, an education professor at MaryBaldwinCollege who is head of the Staunton School Board, said he believes
the status quo is not working.
"If we were talking teenagers, it would be less of a concern to
me," he said. "The system requires a 6-year-old child to occasionally
defend his or her belief system to teachers and classmates. It doesn't
happen often, but the system is vulnerable to occasional lapses. We
don't have the luxury of leaving it up to our best hopes."
The third-graders just think the lessons are fun.
Most are now attending Bible classes for the third year. They said they
never have heard anybody say anything mean to the students who do not
"They're missing a lot of good stuff," said Olivia Pyanoe,
who gave a short speech to the School Board in support of the classes.
"I told them it's good to go. Some kids don't attend Sunday school
State public schools Superintendent Jack O'Connell urged the governor
Monday to pay schools a promised $2.3 billion to avoid further harm
to an educational system already challenged by large numbers of impoverished
students, many of whom are learning English.
In his state of education address Monday in Sacramento, O'Connell criticized Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger for
presenting a fiscal dilemma in next year's budget: a choice between
health care programs for the poor and elderly and funding schools.
Really, O'Connell said, it's a choice between tax relief for the wealthiest
Californians and funding for health and schools. "Investment in
our schools now is the most rational way to improve California's economy," he said. "Without that investment,
our businesses will not have a prepared workforce to hire."
O'Connell also called for lowering the vote threshold for local parcel
taxes from a two-thirds majority to 55 percent -- the same threshold
for most school construction bond measures -- to make it easier for
communities to raise money for school operations.
The governor proposes spending $35.9 billion on schools, up 4.2 percent
from this year. But under voter-approved Proposition 98, which establishes
funding levels for education, the state owes K-12 public schools $1.1
billion for the current school year and $1.2 billion for next year.
Schools agreed to give up the money last year on the condition that
the state repay it this year and next. Over the past four years, schools
have lost out on $9.8 billion in Proposition 98 funding.
H.D. Palmer, a budget spokesman for the governor, said that in order
to give the schools $2.3 billion, "we would have to make deep and
substantial reductions in health and welfare program, things like healthy
families and programs for the developmentally disabled. The governor
chose not to go there."
O'Connell quoted recent studies stating that Californians invest less
in public schools than they did 30 years ago, that the state is eighth
from last nationwide in per-pupil spending, that 40 percent of California
students are from low-income or impoverished families, that 25 percent
are learning English and that 43 school districts are on the brink of
fiscal ruin, with seven already taken over by the state.
"Even if we increased per-pupil spending by 25 percent today, we
would not come even close to what New York, New Jersey, Wisconsin, Vermont
or even Wyoming spend to educate their students," O'Connell said.
"We'd still not be in the top 10 states when it comes to investing
in our children."
Although he didn't directly attack the governor's proposal to institute
merit pay for teachers and scrap a system based largely on length of
service and education level, O'Connell emphasized that California's
educational problems had to do with inadequate funding -- not teachers.
After his speech, O'Connell said in a telephone interview that he has
never seen a merit-pay system that works and that it creates unhealthy
competition among teachers.
"I would much rather see teachers work in collaboration,"
On other subjects, O'Connell called for making voluntary preschool available
to all and said he planned to establish the "California P-16 council"
to coordinate and integrate education for students in pre-school through
He applauded Schwarzenegger's efforts to make schools a healthier place
by promoting nutrition and fitness and said he intended to support legislation
to adopt health education standards for schools.
He repeated his earlier calls to improve high school education in California: He will lead an effort to develop a state review process
to ensure that high school instructional materials are closely aligned
with state standards.
"California has the most diverse and challenging student population
in the nation," he said. "It is past time for our state to
examine and identify the true costs of providing an excellent education
to every child, regardless of background or challenges brought to the
School budget forecast:
A report required of the governor on whether education will get enough
money concedes setbacks and sacrifices are all too assured
Betsy Hammond, The Oregonian, 1/25/05
Gov. Ted Kulongoski spelled out Monday what Oregonians should expect
from their public schools under his proposed spending plan for the next
two years: bigger class sizes, fewer instructional days, stagnating
achievement, a narrowed curriculum, less help for students with special
That assessment came in a written report, required by Oregon voters every two years, on whether the state is giving
schools enough money.
Unlike two years ago, when Kulongoski criticized his own education spending
plans, the governor this time lauds his plan to spend $5 billion on
education as a "first step in stabilizing school funding"
and "a solid foundation."
But he also said it probably would spell an end to improving reading
and math achievement that marked the state's public schools over the
He added, "Students will have fewer opportunities to achieve in
other academic areas as the curriculum becomes narrower, instructional
time is reduced, and schools are less able to meet diverse student needs."
On the bright side, the report says, Oregon will begin living within its means, teachers and principals
do great work, and Kulongoski has a plan to create a rainy-day fund
that could begin bolstering schools by 2009.
The governor's report concludes that the $5 billion he proposes to spend
on schools in 2005-07 is too little money to do the job but that that's
all Oregon can afford, given sagging income tax revenue.
The governor's proposed school aid is $84 million more than what is
being spent this biennium. But it would result in cuts because school
salaries, health insurance and pension costs are projected to increase
faster than state aid and property taxes during the next two years.
The governor's report also says his spending plan will force Oregon's universities and community colleges to increase tuition
again. And it says the share of needy preschoolers who will receive
Head Start will shrink from 60 percent to 53 percent.
"This is an amount of funding we know we can sustain," Kulongoski
writes. "The current severe shortfall and revenue structure does
not allow us to fund (education) at a level I consider adequate."
James Sager, Kulongoski's education adviser, said the governor deserves
credit for his honesty.
"He was committed to building an honest budget, not one built on
wishful thinking," Sager said. "And he thinks it is better
to be honest about the impact than to gloss over the reality. We cannot
continue to ask our schools to do more with less."
What the report tells
Under a measure approved by Oregon voters in 2000, the governor is required to report on
the adequacy of his education spending plans, the reasons for any inadequacy
and the way that will impact student achievement in Oregon.
Susan Castillo, Oregon's schools superintendent, disagreed with the governor,
a fellow Democrat. She scoffed at his statement that he does not have
"the luxury" to put more money into education.
"Kids who are in school today can't wait until 2009 for help,"
she said. "This is about what happens in our classrooms today.
"Education is not a luxury. If there's a flood and we run to get
sandbags or a forest fire and we as a state take measures to put it
out, we don't consider that a luxury.
"Setting our sights low, and talking about more layoffs and a shorter
school year and counselors going away -- I think Oregon is better than that," Castillo said.
Praise for Kulongoski
But Rep. Dan Doyle, R-Salem, co-chairman of the Joint Committee on Ways
& Means, said Kulongoski is right that $5 billion is the most the
state can afford. That's sound fiscal management, Doyle said.
"I share the governor's frustrations that more funds aren't available,
but I thought he did a great job making the decisions the way he did."
Doyle said Kulongoski's report is too pessimistic about the impact on
"I am much more optimistic about the work that our teachers and
our students and our parents can do together," Doyle said. "I
am confident that we as a state will continue to meet our achievement
Sager said the governor would be willing to spend more on education
if the Legislature can agree on where to find that money. "If the
Legislature can determine additional resources for schools that are
stable, ongoing sources, then governor is all ears," he said. "That
is clearly a conversation the Legislature can have."
Virginias school superintendents would like to be rid of
the federal No Child Left Behind law.
Who could blame them? NCLB makes demands that are next to impossible
to fulfill. Students at poorly performing schools get to transfer elsewhere,
even though there may not be an elsewhere to send them.
Every nook and cranny of the student population gets exposed to scrutiny.
All the warts are put out in the open.
Its not enough that middle-class white students pull up the scores
of everyone else. Black students must improve under the law. So must
Latinos. So must those who speak English as a second language and those
who have special learning needs.
Inconveniently, No Child pretty much means no child.
Even so, pulling Virginia out of the program, as the superintendents advocated
at a press conference last week, would be a big mistake.
Lawmakers should empathize with the superintendents, but firmly resist.
Advocating for realistic amendments, as did the state Board of Education
, would better serve the children of Virginia.
Wise strategists crafting a far-reaching reform start out asking for
a full loaf. Thats what the architects of NCLB did. Rather than
acknowledge from Day One that not all children may succeed, they wrote
a law expecting that all would.
Already, adjustments have been made in those expectations. More need
to come. Getting everyones attention required uncompromising standards.
Now that everyone understands NCLB isnt a passing fancy, the federal
government should make some common-sense changes.
Board of Education recommendations that failing students be allowed
to retake the tests and that transfer requirements apply only to failing
students make particularly good sense.
But pulling Virginia out entirely would rob children in some of the states
worst schools of the benefits of the lawss toughest sanctions.
Schools that continually fail to make adequate progress may have to
revamp staff, adopt a new curriculum, or take steps such as extending
the school year.
Those demands will create enormous headaches. But they may also compel
school divisions to improve.
The possible reward, better lives for scores of children, is worth the
effort and the pain.
School administrators cant squeeze water out of stone. But they
can work with state and federal officials to amend truly impossible
requirements, while acknowledging that years of business as usual
left many children poorly educated.
Every available tool, including an evolving NCLB law, should be exploited
to give those children the education they deserve.
Colo. online students have poor grades
DENVER -- Students from kindergarten to 12th grade who take
online courses in Colorado are performing worse than statewide averages, according
to a state report.
Online students were forced to repeat grades four times more often than
the statewide average last year, and a higher percentage were rated
"unsatisfactory" on standardized math tests, according to
Colorado Department of Education figures.
Online school operators defended their programs, saying they draw a
high number of students who have failed in traditional schools or have
"What makes us look so bad is about 75 percent of our (online)
students coming to us are high at-risk," said Bill Hines, superintendent
of the Vilas School District in southeast Colorado, which has 350 online
students and fewer than 100 traditional students.
State Sen. Sue Windels plans to introduce a bill creating a statewide
authority to hold online schools accountable. It would cover both cyberschools
and traditional districts that offer online courses.
Wis. Fires Back Over Summer Homework Suit
MILWAUKEE -- Wisconsin's attorney general responded Wednesday to a student's
lawsuit to end mandatory summer homework, arguing the state cannot set
rules for local school boards.
The response from Attorney General Peg Lautenschlager, mailed Wednesday
to Milwaukee County Circuit Court and obtained by The Associated Press,
asks for dismissal of the suit and demands lawyers' fees for what it
called an "unmeritorious complaint."
Limiting homework is beyond the authority of the state superintendent
of public instruction, Lautenschlager said.
"It is the local school boards which determine the curriculum and
course requirements," she said.
She added that the rule requiring 180 days of school every year for
high school students "sets a minimum, not a maximum."
Peer Larson, a 17-year-old junior at Whitnall High School in suburban
Hales Corners, and his father, Bruce, filed suit two weeks ago demanding
that students be able to decide whether to complete summer homework.
They contended the tasks created an unfair workload and unnecessary
They took the matter to court after the younger Larson was required
to complete three pre-calculus assignments for his honors math class
last summer, even though he was working at a demanding job as a camp
Bruce Larson said Wednesday that he had not yet received a copy of the
state's response and would not comment.
LINCOLN -- Karen Adams always enjoyed receiving her invitation.
The WPRI-TV news anchorwoman and Lincoln resident looked forward to penciling in the school districts
spelling bee in her appointment calendar.
But theres no note in her calendar this year. The Lincoln district has decided to eliminate this years spelling
bee -- a competition involving pupils in grades 4 through 8, with each
school district winner advancing to the state competition and a chance
to proceed to the national spelling bee in Washington, D.C.
Through the years, it had become a tradition for Adams
to pronounce and define spelling words used in the bee.
"It was just fun," she said last Monday from her office at
the television studio.
Assistant Superintendent of Schools Linda Newman said the decision to
scuttle the event was reached shortly after the January 2004 bee in
a unanimous decision by herself and the districts elementary school
The administrators decided to eliminate the spelling bee, because they
feel it runs afoul of the mandates of the federal No Child Left Behind
"No Child Left Behind says all kids must reach high standards,"
Newman said. "Its our responsibility to find as many ways
as possible to accomplish this."
The administrators agreed, Newman said, that a spelling bee doesnt
meet the criteria of all children reaching high standards -- because
there can only be one winner, leaving all other students behind.
"Its about one kid winning, several making it to the top
and leaving all others behind. Thats contrary to No Child Left
Behind," Newman said.
A spelling bee, she continued, is about "some kids being winners,
some kids being losers."
As a result, the spelling bee "sends a message that this isnt
an all-kids movement," Newman said.
Furthermore, professional organizations now frown on competition at
the elementary school level and are urging participation in activities
that avoid winners, Newman said. Thats why there are no sports
teams at the elementary level, she said as an example.
The emphasis today, she said, is on building self-esteem in all students.
"You have to build positive self-esteem for all kids, so they believe
theyre all winners," she said. "You want to build positive
self-esteem so that all kids can get to where they want to go."
A spelling bee only benefits a few, not all, students, the elementary
principals and Newman agreed, so it was canceled.
While she concedes shes not familiar with the specifics of No
Child Left Behind, Adams, nevertheless, is befuddled by the school departments
"I dont see where that (No Child Left Behind) has anything
to do with a spelling bee. It was just a fun time," Adams
Winning a spelling bee, she added, "just meant you were a good
One aspect she enjoyed about participating in her hometown spelling
bee was the openness of the competition.
"Its not always the straight "A" student who wins
the spelling bee," she said.
A spelling bee also is a chance for children to shine before their peers,
family and friends, Adams points out.
"Its a big deal for the kids. Its a nice recognition
for them," she said.
Competing in a spelling bee is also a learning experience, the anchorwoman
believes. "It was fun for the kids because it gave them poise and
confidence to stand in front of a crowd."
Adams admits shell miss the bee.
"I just loved the kids. They were so cute. My heart broke every
time a kid missed," she said. "I really enjoyed it."
Adams wasnt the only one caught off guard by the spelling
"I had no idea this (spelling bee) was called off," School
Committee Chairman Jeff Weiss said last Friday.
The chairman reserved further comment until he could get more information.
"I have no comment because I dont know whats going
on," the chairman said.
Canceling the spelling bee is an administrative decision that doesnt
require School Committee approval, Newman said.
Karen Martin, whose daughter, Brianna, won last years bee, said
she was surprised the bee had been eliminated, describing its cancellation
Although her daughter was nervous, Martin believes it was a good experience
for Brianna. "It was exciting to go to the state competition,"
the mother said.
Like Adams, Martin said shell miss the bee.
"Im disappointed. I thought it was a fun activity,"
The administrators decision to eliminate the bee wasnt a
difficult one, Newman said.
"There was no debate at all. It was one of the easiest decisions,"
the assistant superintendent said because "there was no question
among the administrators" that a spelling bee was "contrary
to the expectations" of No Child Left Behind.
Wis. school expelled from voucher program AP, 1/27/05
MILWAUKEE -- The state terminated a school from its Milwaukee voucher program Thursday, after police were called to
break up a melee Monday that included an estimated 100 students.
Children told police there were no teachers at the AcademicSolutionsCenter for Learning when the fighting broke out in a classroom
and the melee later developed in a common area while officers were investigating
the first fight.
According to the order from the state Department of Public Instruction,
children told police that teachers either didn't show up for work or
called in sick because they hadn't been paid.
The DPI order, signed by Deputy Superintendent Anthony Evers, said the
five to seven school security officers and about two administrators
in the common area were unable to control the situation. Police issued
several citations to students involved.
Police had been called to the school five other times since mid-November,
and the school was not meeting terms of its building occupancy certificate,
the DPI said.
DPI officials said they concluded the school posed an imminent threat
to the health and safety of students, which violates rules for the program,
so they terminated it.
That means the school won't get state aid payments through the program
until all requirements are met and administrators show they can safely
run the school.
The state previously challenged the school's claims of enrolling 700
students, saying it actually had under 500. The voucher program pays
about $5,900 per student, allowing low-income families in Milwaukee to send their children to private schools at taxpayer
Milwaukee Public Schools scheduled an open house Feb. 3 to give students
from the former voucher school and their parents the opportunity to
select an MPS school to attend.
Republicans in the Legislature have been working to raise the enrollment
cap on the program for next fall, arguing that an additional 1,500 students
are likely to seek a spot, which would raise the total over the current
cap of 15 percent of MPS enrollment.
State officials have backed away from some parts of a groundbreaking
plan to require tougher math and science classes for a high school diploma.
A series of adjustments might delay the plan's adoption but won't stop
the effort to transform what has been one of the nation's easiest diplomas
The changes would:
Drop the requirement that high school students take math through
their senior year, which eases fears that children in special education
would founder in pre-calculus classes.
Protect children who tried the tougher classes but failed by
letting them return to the track for a basic, less demanding diploma.
Expand the selection of optional classes for a basic diploma
beyond math, science and career planning to include language arts, social
studies, foreign languages and fine arts.
Supporters say higher diploma standards would fall in line with state
goals to better prepare students for college and the workplace. Students
who can't handle the proposed new standards could opt out and still
graduate by meeting minimum requirements.
Nearly two dozen school officials from throughout Indiana asked members of the State Board of Education at its
Tuesday meeting to put off making a decision on the diploma proposal
next week. The board is the last stop before the plan is implemented.
"There is no emergency that necessitates imposing these new rules
in a rushed fashion," said Mytron Lisby, who oversees secondary
education for Vigo County Schools in Terre
School officials peppered board members with complaints that the plan
would divert money needed for elementary and middle school grades while
high schools added classes; set back schools with high rates of poverty
in the race to meet federal standards for improvement; and add a layer
of red tape.
The proposal still lacks a price tag. Critics say the changes also would
encourage middle-schoolers to put off algebra and geometry until high
school, because the advanced math classes wouldn't count toward the
new diploma unless the students passed them in high school.
"To a sixth-grader, that doesn't make much sense," said Doug
Williams, superintendent of Perry Township Schools and past president
of the Indiana Urban Schools Association. "We'd have fewer kids
taking courses in middle school years, and they'd wait until high school.
When they finish, they would accomplish a lower level of mathematics
than they would otherwise."
The plan calls for making the decade-old Core 40 diploma program a graduation
requirement starting with the Class of 2011. Now it is offered as a
more difficult academic option to the state's minimum graduation requirements.
Under the proposal, a student would need three years of math -- two
in algebra and one in geometry. The program now requires two years,
one of them in algebra and another in an overview class.
Board of Education members hinted that a delay in the Core 40 decision
"I do understand there were deep concerns about the financial implications
of what will be passed," said Daniel Tanoos, a board member from
Terre Haute. "I'm ready to vote on it next week if all the
questions are answered. If they're not answered, I think we might have
Education officials will put the finishing touches on a financial impact
report before the Board of Education's meeting Feb. 2.
A key education panel recommended the revamped high school requirements
in August in what state leaders called the biggest proposed overhaul
of graduation requirements in a decade.
Members of the Indiana Education Roundtable also want to tie college
scholarships and admission to the Core 40 diploma, although that decision
will come later.
Educators have criticized the Core 40 plan almost from day one. But
the state education board's modifications were a relief, some school
"Had they not made those changes, it would have been far more contentious
than it was" Tuesday, Williams said. "I think what they're
trying to accomplish is a good thing, but the timing isn't good to propose
something that will cost more money."
Timing, however, appears to be a never-ending issue, Tanoos said.
"I think one problem we have in education is, we talk and talk
and talk some more," he said. "We need to come up with an
answer, get on with it and move forward."
Choice may allow
a racial backslide
Judging by parents' applications, some Pinellas schools could become
largely resegregated unless something is done to head it off.
By THOMAS C. TOBIN and DONNA WINCHESTER, St. Petersburg Times Staff Writers, 1/23/05
PinellasCounty's school choice plan appears likely to fall short of
its most important goal: preventing a return to racially segregated
Though the plan is successfully integrating some schools, it has failed
to work in many others, a Times analysis shows. Nearly three years into
choice, large numbers of Pinellas families - white and black - have
ignored the district's call to integrate voluntarily.
"Could we not have predicted this when they came up with the choice
plan?" chided School Board member Mary Brown, a critic of choice
who was elected after the plan took effect.
The situation is prompting district officials to look for fixes.
"I think we need to start planning, based on these numbers, if
we want an integrated school system," said School Board member
If application trends hold true:
Several elementary schools in St. Petersburg would become predominantly black for the first time
in more than 30 years.
More black students would attend Gibbs and Lakewood high schools, threatening to disrupt racial balances
that have taken years to cultivate.
Two middle schools - Bay Point and John Hopkins - would face a similar
A number of elementary schools in south and mid Pinellas would become
far less diverse. Some enrollments would go from majority white to almost
exclusively white as black students continue to opt for schools closer
to home. More than a dozen mid-county schools already have gone in that
The choice plan prevents those changes from occuring now. A system of
race ratios known as "controlled choice" keeps many schools
artificially integrated. But those controls expire at the end of the
2006-07 school year.
After that, a powerful social dynamic will continue to work against
diversity: Schools that get anywhere close to 50 percent black often
become predominantly black because many white parents avoid schools
where their children could be in the minority.
The prospect of declining diversity emerges in a Times analysis of choice
applications submitted by parents over the past three years. Applications
are a gauge of a school's popularity, providing a glimpse of how schools
will look when race ratios no longer determine enrollment.
The analysis measured a school's popularity by the number of incoming
students who listed it as their first choice.
Under choice, schools try to entice families with "attractors,"
which are themes that run through the curriculum. Some attractors are
proving far more marketable than others.
District officials acknowledge it is probably too late to prevent at
least a temporary return to a school system with significant pockets
The public's impulse to select schools close to home is simply too ingrained.
And the district is approaching the end of a four-year phase-in period
that was supposed to condition Pinellas families to look outside their
neighborhoods for schools, thereby promoting integration.
The final application cycle under "controlled choice" is this
The School Board plans to explore changes to the choice plan that could
bring about a recovery. The board also plans to ask the public for direction.
Choice can work, "but we've got to change what we're doing,"
said Brown, the School Board member.
"To say we've come up short is true," said board chairwoman
Nancy Bostock, "but we have made so much progress and we'll continue
to do so."
Superintendent Clayton Wilcox said his staff will begin working on the
problem soon in preparation for a School Board summit on choice this
He said it is time for Pinellas to ask fundamental questions about what
is best for its schools.
Is it so bad for some schools to be nearly all-black if they get the
same resources as predominantly white schools? Or is that heresy in
a district that has worked for decades to stay racially integrated?
What is Pinellas' definition of success when it comes to the racial
makeup of schools?
Wilcox, who recently moved to Pinellas from a largely black district
in Louisiana, wants to know.
He said he has talked to black people in Pinellas who say they wouldn't
be bothered by segregated schools as long as they are equal in quality.
He also has talked to people who insist that separate schools could
never be equal.
Others argue that, in a diverse society, integrated schools have a value
that goes far beyond ensuring equality.
"What do families want?" Wilcox asked.
Bostock said that will be "the big question" as the board
struggles in the coming months to map a future for choice.
Among the focal points will be elementary schools south of Central Avenue in St. Petersburg, home to most of the county's black community.
At three schools - James B. Sanderlin, Maximo and Lakewood elementaries - white students make up only 25 percent
of the applications for next school year. At Fairmount Park Elementary,
the figure is a scant 18 percent.
Of those four schools, only Sanderlin has garnered strong interest from
white parents over the past three years, but that appears to have weakened.
None of those numbers bodes well for integration.
On the plus side for choice, three other schools south of Central are
drawing substantial numbers of white families.
At Gulfport Elementary, which offers a Montessori program, whites make
up nearly 80 percent of the kindergarten applicants who listed the school
as their first choice. The school is in a census tract that is 76 percent
Campbell Park Elementary, which has a marine science theme, drew a kindergarten
applicant pool that is 42 percent white - not a majority but gaining
strength. The school, near Tropicana Field, is in a neighborhood that
is 93 percent black.
At Douglas L. Jamerson Jr. Elementary, the theme is math and engineering,
the teachers are highly qualified and the corporate partners include
IBM. The school is just off 34th
in a census tract that is nearly 90 percent black. But a positive buzz
is spreading among white families who live miles away.
For next year, the pool of kindergarten applicants who listed Jamerson
as their first choice was 62 percent - up from 34 percent in the first
year of choice.
One prospective Jamerson parent is St. Petersburg lawyer Dana Douglas, whose son David will enter kindergarten
in the fall. Douglas, who is white and lives in St. Pete Beach, said
she was considering private school or one of the district's fundamental
Then a friend told her about Jamerson, which is about 20 minutes from
Douglas said she was impressed with the school's principal and
the federal grant the school has received to supplement its programs.
She also liked the fact that more than half of the teachers have master's
degrees and all are committed to becoming National Board Certified.
"I don't know of a single parent who looked at Jamerson,"
she said. "I think a lot of people had concerns about the neighborhood.
I have concerns, but they're outweighed at this point."
The recipe for a good "attractor" can be elusive.
Both Jamerson and Sanderlin elementaries are new schools in predominantly
black neighborhoods. They have seasoned principals, new computers and
hand-picked staffs. Yet white parents seem more drawn to Jamerson.
Grasping for reasons, Jamerson principal Bob Poth spoke of the vibrant
word-of-mouth from parents like Douglas. He also spoke of intangibles.
"When parents come and tour, it's very evident the kids have fun,
that we value all subject areas," he said. "If you look at
our Web site, we have a virtual museum of our kids' art work. We have
a band that our music teacher works with free of charge after school.
. . . It may sound like a math and engineering school, but the children
get to do a lot of things."
Sanderlin principal Denise Miller acknowledged that her school's International
Baccalaureate Primary Years Programme may be harder to sell. There are
few succinct ways to explain what the school is all about.
One of many descriptions from the school's Web site: "Every child
will be a motivated learner at Sanderlin, and show responsible citizenship
Other attractors are so compelling they overcome even the worst publicity.
In 2002, Gulfport Elementary became the only Pinellas school ever to
get an F from the state. In 2003, it was the first Pinellas school to
fail the federal government's standards.
Today, it has a new principal, a B grade and strong interest from white
parents. Principal Lisa Grant noted that Gulfport has the only public Montessori program in the county
and that Montessori schools tend to attract white, middle-class families.
Montessori classes put the students in charge of their work and pace.
Tuition for private Montessoris in Pinellas runs from $5,000 to $9,300
While much of the choice plan's emphasis is on attracting white families
to black neighborhoods, the other half of the equation is getting more
black families to try schools outside their neighborhoods.
That has proved difficult.
After 30 years of being bused to other locales under the old desegregation
plan, black families are relishing the idea of schools close to home.
Under choice, black enrollment has plummeted at 14 mid-county schools
where black students were bused in years past.
The same scenario appears likely at several St. Petersburg schools.
Race ratios keep black enrollment at 34 percent at Gulf Beaches Elementary.
But without the ratios, black enrollment would drop to 3 percent, if
application trends continue. A similar fate awaits schools like Shore
Acres, Azalea and 74th Street elementaries.
Angel Wade, a black St.
parent, said she would have considered sending her daughter Ashley to
high school in Clearwater if there had been a program that interested the 14-year-old.
But she was happy with her options within a 10-mile radius of home.
Ashley had a seat at Boca Ciega High, thanks to choice's "grandfathering"
provisions. But Wade gave up a sure thing and opted to enter the choice
lottery last fall because she wanted Ashley to attend either Gibbs or
St. Petersburg High.
"I'd like her to be closer to home (at Boca Ciega) because it's
better for me," Wade said. "But the most important thing is
the programs the school offers."
High schools will be a focus when the School Board tackles choice this
Board members Brown and Gallucci already have some ideas. One is to
get middle school students thinking about their future before they leave
for high school. That might open their eyes to high school career programs
in other areas of the county, the board members said.
The other idea is to beef up vocational programs for Pinellas students
who don't plan to go to college but need to compete for jobs in local
trades. The board members suggest a career high school in an area of
the county that would draw black students out of their neighborhoods.
Said Gallucci: "I really think we need to start thinking very creatively."
Excuse me, but you're hovering. You realize that, right?
The media, pediatricians, psychologists and even the college dean, they've
all got you figured out -- or so they say. They're calling you a helicopter
parent. Get it? Because you hover?
You're a baby boomer, right? OK, then. Listen up, because this is what
they're saying about you:
You're too obsessed with your children. You treat them like little princes
and princesses -- like they're No. 1, like they're MVPs. You've painstakingly
planned their lives from their first play date to their first day of
They're your little Renaissance kids. You shuttle them from soccer practice,
to clarinet lessons, to karate, and -- because they will be going to
a great college -- to SAT prep class. Whoops! Speaking of which: You're
You inflate their egos. You give them graduation ceremonies even when
it's just from preschool. You give them a trophy at the end of the season
even when they lose. And by the time they get to college and are asked
who their hero is, your child will say those words you long to hear:
My dad. My mom.
Yes, helicopter parent, your intentions are good, but that rotor of
yours is causing a din. Bring her down to terra firma. Let's talk.
A report on "60 Minutes" last fall discussed how the so-called
echo boomers -- the children of baby boomers, who were born between
1982 and 1995 -- are "overmanaged" and "very pressured"
and treated by their parents as pieces of "Baccarat crystal or
something that could somehow shatter at any point."
Indeed, Mel Levine, a professor of pediatrics at the University of North
Carolina Medical School in Chapel
Hill, says today's
children "may well shatter."
He thinks children are being coddled and protected to a degree that
threatens their ability later in life to strike off on their own and
form healthy relationships and proper job skills.
"These parents are trying to create a really terrific statue of
a child rather than a child," says Levine, author of "Ready
or Not, Here Comes Life" (Simon and Schuster, 2005).
Beverly Low, dean of the first-year class at ColgateUniversity, says that where before parents would drop their kids
off to college and get out of the way, parents now constantly call her
office intervening in a roommate dispute or questioning a professor's
"A lot of our students tell us, 'Hey, my mom is my best friend.
My father is my best friend.' Is that a good thing? It's a different
thing," she says.
But why is it happening? Mary Elizabeth Hughes, a sociologist at DukeUniversity, says helicopter parenting may be an outward sign of
economic anxiety, particularly when parents consider the uncertain job
market that may await their children.
"They're very concerned that their kids do very well and excel
at a lot of things as a result," she says.
Hughes says such parenting may reflect generational changes as well.
Many baby boomer parents came of age during the turbulent '60s where
they couldn't help but experience social change and respond by creating
new lifestyles including new forms of parenting.
Mark and Cathy Gamsjager of Greenville, N.Y., are annoyed by parents who turn their loving into hovering.
But baby boomers, as a whole, may not be getting the credit they deserve,
they say, particularly for some of the improvements they've brought
Mark Gamsjager, 42, fronts the rockabilly band The Lustre Kings. He
skateboards and snowboards with his two boys, Austin, 13, and Thomas,
They have a great relationship and have lots to talk about, he says.
But he's still their dad.
"I think there's got to be a line, you know?" he says. "You
still have got to be the tough guy."
Indeed, the Gamsjagers say they try to take the best aspects of their
parents -- emphasizing education, independence and discipline -- while
improving upon their parents' shortcomings.
"I think parents make much more of an effort to be with their kids,"
says Cathy Gamsjager. "It seems to me that we've gotten away from
everybody being an authoritarian. Not that we don't have authority over
our kids, but there's more honesty. You spend more time actually talking
to your kids about real things."
But being open and honest doesn't mean being a pushover, she says. "I'm
not my kids' best friend," she says. "I'm their mom. I love
being their mom, and I love being fun, but in the end I totally get
that I'm responsible for helping them make good choices. I'm responsible
for where their lives head. I can enjoy them, but no, I can't be their
Calls for Revamping
High Schools Intensify By Lynn Olson, Education Week, 1/26/05
From President Bush on down, the pressure is on to fix Americas high schools. But despite a broad consensus that
something is seriously wrong with the institution, deep fault lines
remain about the remedies.
Its like saying we have to fix global warming or obesity,
said Chester E. Finn Jr., the president of the Washington-based Thomas
B. Fordham Foundation. From 30,000 feet, you can easily agree
that theres a problem, but the closer you get to it, the more
you can see that different peoples views of the essence of the
problem and the solution are very, very different.
Part of the reluctance to address high schools has been their complexity.
Elementary pupils generally dont drop out of school. Nor do they
hold part-time jobs or often engage in risky social behaviors that interfere
with their homework. And the sheer size, departmental structure, mission
creep, and other political impediments at the secondary level have made
it hard for reformers to gain a toehold.
But now, thanks to a drumbeat of statistics, coupled with a flurry of
reports and initiatives, attention once again has focused on grades
High school achievement has barely budged over the past decade. Just
36 percent of seniors are proficient in reading, according
to the National Assessment of Educational Progress, the federal testing
program, and only 17 percent are proficient in mathematics. Near the
end of high school, African-American and Latino students have reading
skills virtually the same as those of white 8th graders.
Most troubling, up to 30 percent of high school freshmen never earn
a standard diplomaand in some urban districts, more than half
of 9th graders leave before the senior year.
Of those who graduate and go on to college, more than half are forced
to take remedial courses. And more than one-fourth of those who enter
four-year colleges and nearly half of those who enroll in two-year colleges
never return for a second year. All those problems are worse for poor
and minority students.
Moreover, ask most students about their high school experience and the
answer comes back: Boring, boring, boring. A 2003 study by the National
Research Council found that by the time many teenagers reach high school,
they often lack any sense of purpose or connection with what they are
doing in the classroom.
We knew high schools were a big issue, but nobody knew what to
do, said Michael W. Kirst, a professor of education at StanfordUniversity. I think its gotten to the point in the
last few years that we can no longer ignore this. So we have to go at
it in a serious way, but in a way that is somewhat experimental.
College for All?
At the 30,000-foot level, theres a growing consensus that high
schools need to be more rigorous: preparing all students for postsecondary
education, work, and citizenship.
But whether that means college for all, in the most narrow
interpretation, or some kind of postsecondary credential by the
age of 26, in the words of Hilary Pennington, the founder of the
Boston-based research and advocacy group Jobs for the Future, remains
a subject of debate.
I would argue that the research base says, Damn it, they
need to be prepared for postsecondary education because most of them
will either go or need the same level of skills to have any chance to
succeed in this economy, argued Kati Haycock, the director
of the Education Trust, a Washington-based group that works to close
achievement gaps between students of different racial, ethnic, and economic
But she added: When you say out loud, All kids need to be
college-ready, there are huge parts of both the education and
the general population who dont get that yet.
In contrast, James E. Rosenbaum, a professor of education and social
policy at NorthwesternUniversity in Evanston, Ill., asserts that encouraging all teenagers to attend college
is killing students with kindness.
Its giving them excessively high goals without any fallback
options, Mr. Rosenbaum said, noting that fewer than two out of
every 10 high school freshmen will complete an associates or bachelors
degree in a timely fashion. At a minimum, he contends, guidelines should
warn and advise students to have several alternatives in case their
college plans dont work out.
Similarly, while most educators and policymakers agree that all studentswhether
bound for the workplace or collegeneed a common core of high-level
skills, that consensus falls apart when it comes to the specifics. In
particular, should a common curriculum extend only to literacy and mathematics,
or should it cover all aspects of a traditional college-preparatory
curriculum? And just how rigorous is rigorous?
One of the most prominent recommendations of the 1983 report A Nation
at Risk was that all students take four years of English, three years
of math, science, and social studies, and a half year of computer science,
as well as two years of a foreign language for the college-bound.
Although states like Arkansas and Texas have made the traditional college-prep
curriculum the default for all students, other experts and policymakers
argue for limiting the common core to literacy and math, so that schools
have more room to experimentand to offer students diverse options
that are more engaging and appealing. The Seattle-based Bill & Melinda
Gates Foundation, which has invested $800 million in high school improvement
efforts around the country, advocates a diverse portfolio of great
high schools, with different emphases, teaching approaches, and
philosophies, all of which would prepare every student for college.
Even within the more streamlined parameters of literacy and mathematics,
disagreement abounds. The American Diploma Projectwhich was launched
by three national groups to identify the knowledge and skills needed
for postsecondary education and well-paid jobsrecommended last
year that all students take four years of grade-level English and math,
including Algebra 2, as well as data analysis and statistics.
What makes you think we could teach everyone Algebra 2?
asked Rona C. Wilensky, the principal of the 345-student NewVistaHigh
in Boulder, Colo. Thats a Herculean task. Im in favor
of mathematics problem-solving, but very few people in the world need
Putting more people through a traditional college-prep curriculum, she
maintained, wont fundamentally change teaching and learning or
ensure that youths learn more.
Indeed, most experts acknowledge a need to get away fromor at
least look underneathtraditional course titles to examine the
actual content, teaching instruction, and expectations for students.
One of the most baffling findings of the past few decades, says Mr.
Kirst, is that sizable increases in the proportion of students taking
a college-preparatory sequence have not resulted in rising achievement
levels on national tests.
Michael Cohen, the president of the Washington-based Achieve, the nonprofit
group founded by governors and business leaders that co-sponsored the
American Diploma Project, said while its important to keep the
content constant, there may be lots of ways to deliver it. Theres
also no escaping the need for good instruction, good teaching, and better
teacher preparation, he said.
Whether that common core should extend through grade 10
or beyond is also a subject of debate. In addition, theres concern
that ratcheting up academics will simply push more youngsters out of
school, particularly those who enter 9th grade far below grade level
in reading. On the ground, its the gap between the incoming literacy
levels of so many students and the increasingly rigorous expectations
of them that has paralyzed so many high school educators, according
to Ms. Haycock.
According to the Alliance for Excellent Education, a Washington-based advocacy
group focused on high school improvement, only five statesAlabama, Florida,
Iowa, New Jersey,
and Ohiohave statewide literacy programs for adolescents.
From miles up, a consensus has also formed that high schools need to
be more personal, fostering an environment in which students feel well-known,
supported, and safe. Thats been a persistent theme since educator
Theodore R. Sizer wrote Horaces Compromise back in 1984. Less
clear is whether that means all high schools must be small.
I think theres nothing more important than for an adolescent
to be known by mature, thoughtful, intelligent, kind, respectful adults,
said Ms. Wilensky of NewVistaHigh
While I absolutely advocate and believe in small schools, and
I see their power, she added, Im not sure that you
can sell small high schools to everybody.
Any community that has high-achieving high schools is not going
to change those high schools, Ms. Wilensky cautioned. Those
institutions have a power that we havent begun to fathom in terms
of their role. They are so much a part of our sense of the American
experience that when they seem to perform academically, there is no
momentum and, in fact, huge resistance to changing them.
Similarly, no consensus exists on whether todays institutions
can be improved or whether a better strategy is to focus on the creation
of entirely new structuresas well as introducing more competition
and choice into the system.
Our grantees have learned that, at least in very large urban schools,
theres often so far to go on so many dimensions that it either
requires a fundamental redesign or replacement, said Tom Vander
Ark, the executive director of education programs at the
Ms. Pennington of Jobs for the Future has proposed three fast
track to college alternatives to the traditional senior year,
all of which would be rigorous enough to prepare young people for college-level
work. One option would provide acceleration for academically motivated
students, another would stress career and technical education, and a
third would provide a gap year focused on community service
or work experience.
In each instance, high schools, community colleges, four-year colleges,
private proprietary schools, and accredited community partnerships would
compete for students, with the money following the young person. And
additional financial incentives would be available, as would on
ramps, to encourage institutions to teach harder-to-serve youths.
I think a piece of what the reforms need to be about is creating
space to let us experiment, Ms. Pennington said. Traditional
high schools work so poorly for so many different kinds of kids.
A secondary education voucher for 16-year-olds might encourage
a whole bunch of providers to come into being that might bear little
or no resemblance to the current crop of institutions we call high school,
said Mr. Finn of the Fordham Foundation.
As evidenced by Ms. Penningtons proposals, another common theme
is to blur the lines between high schools and postsecondary education,
in part to build a smoother and more efficient pipeline for students
and to increase access and success rates, particularly for underserved
To some extent, thats already happening. Evidence includes the
proliferation of Advanced Placement and International Baccalaureate
courses that help high school students work toward earning college credit;
the expansion of dual-enrollment programs, which permit students to
enroll in college courses while still in high school; the establishment
of early- or middle-college high schools that give students early exposure
to college experiences; and the spread of tech prep and
other 2+2 programs that combine the last two years of high
school with the first two years of postsecondary career and technical
But, to date, observes Nancy Hoffman, the vice president for youth transitions
at Jobs for the Future, many of those options have focused on single
courses for the enterprising and affluent, rather than on building
more coherent bridges for the majority of young people.
Studies also have found that the knowledge and skills required to graduate
from high school often are not the same ones valued for college admissions
and placement in credit-bearing courses. I keep stressing that
we cant change the high school, in many ways, without getting
postsecondary involved, Mr. Kirst of StanfordUniversity said. Neither side is willing to sit down and
say, Lets join together and have a sequenced curriculum.
. . . The two levels like to retain their independence.
Thats increasingly unacceptable to the nations governors,
who worry both about the economic competitiveness of their workforces
and the cost-efficiency of their education systems.
Theres not enough money to go around anymore, said
Dane Linn, the director of education policy studies for the National
Governors Association, which is co-sponsoring a national summit on high
schools with Achieve next month. Whether youre a Democrat
or a Republican, governors want to improve the efficiency of the state
investments in education. So you cant just embark on a redesign
of the high schools, but its the connection between high schools
and postsecondary education.
At the same time, Mr. Linn acknowledged, thats going to
be the most difficult, given their fragmented governance and funding
A related battle is over who should own career and technical education.
Ms. Pennington, for instance, advocates moving most career and technical
education to postsecondary institutions. That shift would give interested
high school juniors and seniors a head start on earning transferable
college credits from the institutions that most employers hire from
I think career and technical education remains incredibly important
for large numbers of kids and for the economy, Ms. Pennington
said. But its in a lose-lose situation, the way the current
reform movement is playing out in high schools.
In contrast, Mr. Rosenbaum of Northwestern and Kenneth Gray, a professor
of education at PennsylvaniaStateUniversity in University Park, favor retaining a strong career and technical option
in high schools. Mr. Gray, for instance, points out that a third of
graduates still go directly into the workforce, and that career and
technical programs have a strong record of keeping students in school
About one-fourth of high school students now take at least three career
and technical courses in a single area of concentration, he said. Of
those who complete an integrated career and academic program, 60 percent
go on to college, with more than half enrolling in prebaccalaureate
The real issue is not whether high school or postsecondary technical
education is the priority, Mr. Gray said, but how the two
can be combined into an improved seamless system.
Conversely, Ms. Haycock argued, while its certainly true
that you can do really good things with vocational education, the fact
of the matter is thats not mostly what people are doing with the
money, and what they are doing is often really bad.
Testing and Accountability
One of the most contentious issues is whether accountability in high
schools should focus on individual students, institutions, or both,
and what form those assessments should take.
President Bush has proposed extending the accountability provisions
of the federal No Child Left Behind Act up to high schools, by requiring
annual reading and math tests in grades 9-11 and holding schools accountable
for student achievement. States also would have to participate in the
state-level National Assessment of Educational Progress in grade 12.
Twenty-one states now require students to pass exit or end-of-course
exams to earn a high school diploma, with five more phasing in such
requirements by the class of 2008. States such as Illinois now compel all students to take the ACT or SAT college-admissions
tests as part of their state testing systems. Other states give high
school students the chance to take college-placement tests, to see whether
they are ready for credit-bearing courses, or are considering ways to
use the results of high school exit tests for college-placement and
Theres not unanimity on what the best approach to testing
students for any of this would be, Mr. Cohen of Achieve said.
How much testing is necessary? What decisions ought to be made
on the basis of those?
He worries that if Mr. Bushs proposal becomes law, that
will drive most states to aim low with regard to standards and tests
at the very time they need to be aiming higher.
Rather than spend more money on testing, said Gerald Tirozzi, the executive
director of the National Association of Secondary School Principals,
the focus should be on addressing students needs. He noted that
only 5 percent of Title I money, the number one source of federal funding
for elementary and secondary education, goes to high schools. When
you look at Title I as a driver, NCLB, Goals 2000 [legislation under
President Clinton], most of that was focused on K-8 education,
Despite the lack of consensus on how best to proceed, most educators
welcome the new attention on high schools. And they hope that this time
around, efforts to redesign the institution will be sustained and seriousas
exemplified by efforts taking place in such big-city school systems
as Boston, Chicago,
Philadelphia, and New York.
There seems to be some very strong consensus by the practitioner
community that there are solutions, said Cynthia Harlow Sadler,
the interim president of the Alliance for Excellent Education.
I think there are possibilities for some real breakthroughs,
The Bush administrations recent unveiling of its plan to extend
accountability and other academic measures into the nations high
schools has caused backers of vocational education to worry that the
proposal may squeeze their programs out of the federal budget.
Advocates for career and technical education in recent weeks have launched
a pre-emptive strike to urge members of Congress and other influential
parties to help them stave off potential cuts to their fundingeven
though the administrations fiscal 2006 budget is not expected
to be released until next month.
In particular, their goal is to preserve funding in the Carl D. Perkins
Vocational and Technical Education Act, the federal governments
primary vehicle for career-oriented school programs, which currently
receive about $1.3 billion annually.
Concerns about next years budget spiked earlier this month, after
President Bush spoke publicly about his secondary education proposaland
about changing the way the federal government provides aid for high
schools. The plan calls for testing students in 9th, 10th, and 11th
grades in reading and mathematics; expanding incentives to teachers
working in high-poverty schools; and analyzing the academic records
of incoming 9th graders to determine if they need help. The proposal
carries an estimated $1.5 billion price tag, though the White House
did not specify how much of that money would be new, as opposed to existing
Speaking at a high school in Virginia two weeks ago, the president also
called for consolidating some high school programsthough he did
not specifically say cuts to vocational programs were on the way.
The Department of Education did not respond to a request for comment
on the vocational communitys concerns.
The problem is theyre like silos, Mr. Bush said of
federal high school programs. Theyre prescriptions that
may not meet the needs of the local high school, or the school districtyou
know, a program to promote vocational education, or to prepare for college,
or to encourage school restructuring.
Not long after that speech, the Association of Career and Technical
Education sent an alert to its 30,000 members, voicing concerns about
the proposals effect on vocational education. A second organization,
the National Association of State Directors of Career and Technical
Education Consortium, issued a similar notice around the same time.
Our greatest fear is that all, or most, of our budget would be
cut to fund the presidents high school proposal, said Christin
M. Driscoll, the senior director of public policy for the Alexandria,
Vocational advocates note that during the past two budget years, the
administration has called for bringing higher academic standards to
the federal vocational programwhile seeking to cut its funding
from $1.3 billion to $1 billion. That money was later restored by Congress.
In 2002, proponents went public with fears that the White House was
planning to eliminate the Perkins program or move its functions into
the Department of Labor, speculation that was dismissed by the administration.
("Advocates Warn Voc. Ed. Cuts May Be Afoot," Nov. 27, 2002.)
Theyve dropped enough bread crumbs, said Kimberly
A. Green, the executive director of the Washington-based state consortium,
in summing up her concerns.
Congress at Work Again
That budget speculation also emerges as Congress prepares to reauthorize
the Perkins Act, a process that federal lawmakers failed to reach agreement
on before adjourning last year. Two reauthorization bills were introduced
last year, in the House and the Senate. Because this is a new Congress,
those proposals would have to be reintroduced if they are to become
Rep. Michael N. Castle, R-Del., who led House reauthorization efforts
last year, expects new legislation to closely follow last years
bill, and hopes to have the measure approved by the House education
committee by April, said his spokeswoman, Elizabeth B. Wenk. The lawmaker
does not favor paying for the presidents high school plan through
cuts to other education programs, such as vocational education, she
Sen. Michael B. Enzi, the chairman of the Senate Health, Education,
Labor, and Pensions Committee, issued a statement praising the presidents
plan, while noting the importance of continued vocational funding as
a critical component of high school education.
The Perkins legislation introduced last year in both chambers would
have established various incentives and mandates for states to improve
local vocational programs. The bills also would have created new indicators
to judge the effectiveness of high school and college programs.
Yet some critics, such as Ross Wiener, the policy director for the Education
Trust, say those bills need substantial modifications and
lack the teeth necessary to force state and local programs to improve
their academic rigor.
Mr. Wiener points to the findings of last years congressionally
mandated National Assessment of Vocational Education. While that report
indicated that the percentage of students taking core academic courses
in English, mathematics, and science has risen in recent years, it also
concluded that secondary vocational education itself is not likely
to be a widely effective strategy for improving academic achievement
or college attendance without substantial changes to policy, curriculum,
and teacher training. ("Vocational Students Lag In Achievement,
Report Says," July 14, 2004.)
Although the vocational community has fought off significant changes
to their federal programs in recent years, that position leaves them
vulnerable when federal officialsincluding the Bush administrationstart
pushing for changes in high schools, Mr. Wiener said.
They might have protected their program [into] irrelevance,
said Mr. Wiener, whose Washington-based group promotes higher academic
standards. We have to distinguish between high-quality voc-ed
and low-quality programs that dont prepare students for todays
Maine Rallies Behind Rules for Athletics State Initiative Billed as National Model
By John Gehring, Education Week, 1/26/05
Augusta, Maine - Youth athletes increasingly complain about unruly
fans, overbearing coaches, and pressures from elite travel teams. In
this state, at least, their concerns have been heard.
Superintendents, sports officials, and parents in Maine are rallying behind a major initiative billed as a national
model for creating more positive athletic experiences for young people.
More than 400 people from around the state gathered in Augusta earlier this month for the release of Sports Done
Right: A Call to Action on Behalf of Maines Student-Athletes. The report was written
by a panel of principals, athletic directors, and coaches who spent
a year studying trends in youth sports and looking for better models
to guide school athletic programs.
Backed by a federal grant and endorsed by Maines governor and commissioner of education, the effort
seeks to provide clear frameworks that define how interscholastic sports
should be conducted and monitored. Given the prominent role that sports
play in shaping students identity and the atmosphere of high schools,
the guidance is sorely needed, observers say. Pep rallies and the pursuit
of state championships loom large in defining school culture, even as
high schools are under increasing pressure to improve their academic
The Maine effort comes as other national groups have warned about
disturbing trends in youth athletics. The National Association of State
Boards of Education released a report last fall cautioning that a growing
number of high school teams are taking on the trappings of big-time
college programs. It called on state boards and athletic associations
to be more vigilant about questionable recruiting practices, corporate
sponsorships, and other influences that could undermine schools
educational missions. ("H.S. Athletics Out of Bounds, Report Warns,"
Oct. 27, 2004.).
We all know there has been excesses and departures from sound
practices, said Robert Cobb, the dean of the University of Maines
college of education and a co-director of the universitys Sport
and Coaching Education Initiative, which received a $397,000 federal
Department of Education grant, secured by U.S. Sen. Susan M. Collins,
R-Maine, to lead the project.
This can slip away from boards and administrators quite easily,
Mr. Cobb said of school sports.
The diverse group here, which includes a past president of the American
Medical Association and an Olympic gold medalist in the marathon, met
with middle and high school students in small-group discussions during
a year of work. The Maine Sports Summit, held last spring as part of
the effort, attracted 300 student-athletes from 87 high schools and
24 middle schools.
We have had hundreds of kids tell us about the good, the bad,
and the ugly of their experiences with sports, said Duke Albanese,
a former Maine commissioner of education who has played a leading role
in the effort. We want this model to be developed so well that
people will want to run their program this way.
Mr. Albanese, a former high school football coach and college athlete,
said the sports initiative can be viewed as a complement to Maines
academic standards and the 1998 Promising Futures report,
the states seminal report on high school reform.
The Sports Done Right report, which will be sent to every
school district in the state, is built around seven core principles
and supporting practices that should guide athletic experiences.
The standards include promoting sportsmanship over a win-at-all-cost
mentality; increasing opportunities for learning through sports; and
holding parents and community members to higher standards of behavior.
The document also features out of bounds issues that coaches,
parents, and school administrators should avoid. They include pay
to play policies that require students to pay a fee to participate;
imposing a professional or collegiate model on youth athletics; and
encouraging students to specialize in one sport.
The goal is to have parents, athletes, school boards, superintendents,
and coaches meet locally for discussions about the core principles and
ultimately sign compacts in which they agree to honor the
People want to do right by their kids, but they often dont
know how to do it, said John Wolfgram, an English teacher at South PortlandHigh
and an assistant football coach at BowdoinCollege who sat on the panel. This provides a model.
Dan Bowers, the athletic administrator at ConyHigh School in Augusta, said he welcomes the effort to foster sports programs
that are more balanced. Among other concerns, he said, finding coaches
has become more challenging as teachers take on greater workloads, and
as coaches are treated with less respect by parents and fans.
Most coaches at Cony High and around the state are not teachersa
departure from years past, when student-athletes were more likely to
have coaches they saw every day in the classroom.
Im constantly filling coaching positions, Mr. Bowers
said during a break from the event held to release the report at the
AugustaCivicCenter. Teachers time is limited, and the pay isnt
Paul Vachon has become one of the states most successful and well-known
girls varsity basketball coaches over his three-decade coaching
career. The Cony High coach also teaches 8th grade English.
I dont think were hiring enough teachers who coach,
he said. They go hand and hand. You really have to know the students
on both sides of the fence, as students and athletes.
Mr. Vachon also worries about the influence of teams that are organized
outside of school. The Amateur Athletic Union, for example, has become
one of the nations most competitive and popular venues for athletes
on travel teams looking to showcase their skills to college recruiters
in national tournaments.
I have players now being recruited by AAU coaches, Mr. Vachon
said. Girls will pay as much as $4,000 to be on AAU teams, and
if a coach has 10 players, thats $40,000. Thats more than
I make as a teacher. I guess Im in the wrong profession.
More athletes, he added, feel the pressure to specialize in just one
sport year round, a trend he doesnt understand.
My best team had the field hockey player of the year, the soccer
player of the year, and the basketball player of the year, he
said. Give me athletes, and lets go have fun.
Whether players have fun depends in large part on the attitude of coaches,
argues Karen Brown, the director of the MaineCenter for Sport and Coaching, which trains coaches in the
state and serves as a clearinghouse for resources on coaching.
One of the major problems students face are the unrealistic pressures
coaches put on them, said Ms. Brown, 24, who was a high school
and college athlete in Maine. Kids are so worried about making mistakes they
cant enjoy competition. Coaches feel the pressure of the community,
and the kids get the brunt of that.
in Cumberland, Maine, about 70 percent of the 687 students play a sport.
Last year, the school won three state championships. That was also the
year the school held its first sports pep rallywhich opened with
a student-athlete quoting Henry David Thoreau.
That symbolizes the way we maintain a healthy balance here,
said Chris Mosca, the principal. Sports doesnt drive what
Wayne Fordham, the assistant principal, used to work in a Nebraska high school where the football team defined the schools
sense of identity. By contrast, he said, Greely High has worked hard
to make sports blend in with other extracurricular activities, such
as drama. Administrators also take pains to highlight academic achievement.
We dont have your football jocks parading around like kings,
Mr. Fordham said.
Rachelle Doucette and Greg Frost, both 17-year-old juniors at Greely,
agree that their involvement in school sports is becoming more intense
as they distinguish themselves on the schools basketball and soccer
teams. They also play premier soccer outside of school and
hope to win college scholarships for athletics.
Mr. Frost said his travel-team coach told him he had to choose between
the travel team and his school team. But Mr. Frost, who still plays
some travel sports, chose to compete on his school team because he enjoys
playing with his school friends. He has resisted pressures to specialize
in just soccer.
For her part, Ms. Doucette says that despite the pressures, she cant
imagine school without playing sports.
The team bonding is great, she said. The relationships
you build are awesome.
Michigans governor has named a panel of 120 citizens to
help the Detroit school district improve its governance, but some skeptics
worry that the groups size and broad mission might hamper its
The task forces mission is to help the district make the transition
from an appointed school board to an elected one late this year, and
to monitor its deficit-elimination plans. But in remarks to the news
media on Jan. 11, Gov. Jennifer Granholm suggested the panel could take
on much more than that.
The Democratic governor said the group would view the 140,000-student
district as a blank canvas, coming up with educational,
financial, and even structural improvements, including possibly breaking
the system into subdistricts and creating smaller, specialized high
Three days later, Ms. Granholm formally named the transition task force
members, who are leaders from education, business, government, civic
groups, and the clergy. They were nominated by the Rev. Wendell Anthony,
a Detroit minister who will serve as the panels leader.
The governor believes that the size of the panel reflects a much-needed
dedication to help the Detroit schools get on track, spokeswoman Liz Boyd said.
We had so many people express an interest in wanting to serve
on this team, said Ms. Boyd. Its a beautiful thing.
And we are an administration that values inclusiveness.
A separate team of state leadersincluding Michigans state treasurer, budget director, and superintendent
of public instructionhas been examining the Detroit districts financial situation since November,
and is working with district leaders to make sure its deficit-elimination
plan is workable, she said. Detroit faces a two-year, accumulated deficit of $198 million
in its $1.5 billion fiscal 2005 budget. Chief Executive Officer Kenneth
S. Burnley is to submit his deficit-elimination plan to the state by
Feb. 4, outlining several measures by which the debt can be reduced,
said district spokesman Kenneth Coleman.
The district, which has been suffering in recent years from plummeting
enrollment, sent layoff notices to more than 300 teachers two days before
Christmas. The new plan likely will call for program cuts, union concessions,
closings of as many as 40 of 255 district schools, and elimination of
5,400 more of its 23,000 staff positions, either through retirement
or layoffs, Mr. Coleman said.
The district is hoping that Gov. Granholm will allow the district to
repay its debt over a 12- to 15-year period, he said. Mr. Burnley also
hopes to negotiate significant concessions from Detroits teachers and other labor unions in the district,
Mr. Coleman said.
Janna K. Garrison, the president of the Detroit Federation of Teachers,
who was named to the transition task force, said the district on Jan.
5 proposed a 10 percent cut in wages and benefits, a request the American
Federation of Teachers affiliate rejected.
She said the task force has yet to set a meeting schedule. But she hopes
the 120,000-member unions presence on the panel can help the district
focus on putting more dollars into the classroom and fewer into administration
and ineffective programs. A higher priority must be set on smaller classes,
each headed by a certified teacher, she said.
The fact that Gov. Granholm made the task force so large and gave it
such a broad charge is causing concern in some quarters.
Ari Adler, the spokesman for Republican Sen. Ken R. Sikkema, the majority
leader of the state Senate, said he feared the group would be unable
to keep attention where the district most needs it: on how to get itself
out of debt.
What they need is immediate action, and the governor sent in a
debate team, Mr. Adler said. You get together such a large
group, with no deadline, no clear-cut direction, and it makes us wonder
how effective they are going to be.
But Ms. Boyd, the governors spokeswoman, said the state-appointed
finance team, not the transition task force, would have primary responsibility
for overseeing Detroits deficit-reduction plan. The 120-member panel
wishes to focus more on helping shape the district for the long term,
They will certainly be monitoring [the deficit-elimination plan].
But they wont be hands-on in terms of resolving it, she
said. She dismissed concerns that the group is too large or has too
broad a task to be effective.
We have every confidence that team will come together and structure
itself and accomplish a great deal, Ms. Boyd said.
Fla. Board Seeks Social-Promotion Ban in All Grades By Alan Richard, Education Week, 1/26/05
Florida could become the first state to require students to
pass a reading test to advance at every grade level, under a plan approved
by the state school board last week.
The plan requires lawmakers approval, but support for limited
bans on social promotion has been strong for years in the
Commissioner of Education John
Winn said in an interview that the plan would take hold only gradually
if passed into law.
The state already requires most 3rd graders to pass a reading testnormally
the reading portion of the Florida Comprehensive Assessment Testbefore
they advance to 4th grade. High school students similarly must pass
an FCAT reading test or an alternative before they can graduate. Low-scoring
3rd graders must attend three-week summer reading classes, which enable
some students to escape retention.
The Florida board of education voted unanimously on Jan. 18 to ask
the legislature for the authority to expand the social-promotion ban
into other grades. In social promotion, students who have fallen short
academically are advanced to the next grade to keep them with their
Mr. Winn said last week that he would recommend the ban start with 4th
and 5th gradersstudents who already have been subject to the 3rd
grade requirements. State board members then could determine how swiftly
the program would reach other grades.
This could take 10 years to implement, the commissioner
Catalyst or Quick Fix?
The existing policy against social promotion has improved reading skills
among 3rd graders and has been a catalyst for higher student achievement
in the elementary grades, Mr. Winn said. Expanding the program to all
grades would keep students with poor literacy skills from advancing
through school without the preparation they need, he added.
Florida would be the first state to link student retention to
standardized-test scores at all grade levels, if the plan proceeds.
Eight states now link retention to test scores at some grade levels,
typically in grades 3, 5 and 8, according to the EducationWeekResearchCenter.
But critics warn that the plan may need more thought.
Mark Pudlow, a spokesman for the Florida Education Association, said
the union was surprised by the state boards plan.
The union, a merged affiliate of the National Education Association
and the American Federation of Teachers, favors leaving the decision
to retain or promote students in the hands of teachers and parents,
rather than judging pupils by a test score.
When you have a child thats behind in a particular grade,
then I think you need to launch all kinds of special attention on the
kids. Thats something thats lacking, Mr. Pudlow said.
School district leaders may also be skeptical of the plan to end social
promotion in all grades.
Weve never been a big proponent of social promotion, but
keeping a student back a grade level isnt the only way to address
a students shortcomings on tests, said Connie M. Milito,
the director of government relations for the 183,000-student Hillsborough
Commissioner Winn said the state boards plan fits into Floridas other strategies for improving public schools.
Social promotion is just the symptom of the problems that
exist in teaching children to read, he said. What we need to work
on is better teaching and learning.
Chance for Approval
Its not yet clear how the legislature will respond to the state
Towson Fraser, a spokesman for Speaker of the House Allen Bense, a Republican,
said the speaker had not reviewed the state boards plan. But the
speaker backed the 3rd grade program when it was approved in 2002, he
The idea that you just keep pushing kids along when theyre
not prepared to be better students is not something he agrees with,
Mr. Fraser said on behalf of the speaker.
Mr. Winn and other supporters of expanding the social-promotion ban
cited recent test data as proof that the 3rd grade program is something
to build on. Sixty-six percent of the states 3rd graders scored
at acceptable levels in reading in 2004, while only 57 percent did in
2001, according to the state.
Most 3rd graders who have been retained under the social-promotion ban
were able to improve their reading scores enough to move on to 4th grade
the following year. The program exempts some students who are learning
English, or who do not take state tests because of disabilities.
Also, some students are allowed to show progress using portfolios or
tests other than the FCAT. Still other low-scoring 3rd graders can advance
after taking three weeks of remedial-reading classes and passing a test
during the summer.
Now in its second year, the 3rd grade policy resulted in about 28,000
retentions in the 2003-04 school year. Fewer than half that number of
pupils were retained in the other elementary grades.
Mr. Winn said that retaining more students would not result in more
high school dropouts, as critics claim, because more children would
improve their basic skills at earlier ages. School leaders should not
panic over the proposed changes, he said.
You will not see the governor or me proposing massive retention
in grades that we already know that we havent experienced success
in, the commissioner said.
The heated debate over the growth of charter schools in Massachusetts continues to escalate, as advocates and opponents wrangle
in legal suits and wage aggressive public relation campaigns to sway
Leaders of the Cambridge school district took the unusual step earlier this month
of mailing letters to about 4,000 parents, touting the advantages of
the citys regular public schools and warning that students who
attend a new charter school opening there in the fall cant participate
on sports teams or other district extracurricular activities.
The Jan. 3 letter also cited a recent U.S. Department of Education study
that found students test scores in several states were better
in regular public schools than in charter schools, which are publicly
financed but operate independently. The letter went on to note that
the planned Cambridge charter school did not yet have a location and
would offer a more limited array of course offerings than the citys
own public schools.
Other districts have challenged the opening of new charter schools by
filing lawsuits against the Massachusetts state board of education. Critics say the panel has
been too aggressive in approving new charters, even in the face of intense
School committees in the Hudson, Marlborough, and Maynard school districtsin
suburbs west of Bostonsued the state board last spring, after the board
approved a new Advanced Math and ScienceAcademy charter school that will draw students from the region.
The districts have argued, among other contentions, that the state board
failed to follow its own policies when it approved the application without
allowing district leaders and the public to see a revised application
plan for the school.
Last month, a superior-court judge rejected the state boards request
for dismissal of the case.
Gov. Mitt Romney, a Republican, is a staunch supporter of charter schools.
Last summer, he vetoed a legislative effort to impose a moratorium on
the opening of new charter schools in Massachusetts.
The chasm between local communities and public school districts, on
the one hand, and Mr. Romney and state education officials, on the other,
has made for a testy atmosphere, according to Glenn Koocher, the executive
director of the Massachusetts Association of School Committees.
Its a white-hot issue here, said Mr. Koocher, whose
group represents local school boards. There is a clear perception
that community leaders are not being heard.
David P. Driscoll, the state commissioner of education, acknowledged
that the department of education and state board could do a better job
of being more responsive at public hearings on proposed charters, but
said that the debate comes down to a fundamental difference.
There is a disconnect between the critics who see [charter approvals]
as a debate on charter schools in general, and the real intent of the
law, which is to have charter schools, he said. We will
never be able to satisfy our critics, because they dont want charter
In Cambridge, the Community Charter School of Cambridge is scheduled
to open next fall, despite fierce opposition by the City Council, the
school committee, the mayor, and many community groups. The school,
which will eventually house grades 7-12, is being launched by a former
principal of the public Cambridge Rindge and LatinSchool.
Josie Patterson, the public-information director for the 6,750-student
Cambridge district, said the charter schools leaders have
been aggressively recruiting public school students through personal
phone calls and letters.
In the districts own letter, she said, Cambridge school administrators wanted to make sure families had
as much information as possible about the benefits of the district.
Marc Kenen, the executive director of the Massachusetts Charter School
Association, said that criticism of a particular charter school that
hasnt even opened yet reflects the skepticism that officials of
regular public schools have toward charters.
Mr. Kenen noted there are now 56 charter schools in Massachusetts and a waiting list statewide of some 15,000 studentsa
sign of growing demand.
But Paul Dunphy, a policy analyst with the Boston-based Citizens for
Public Schools, said those numbers are suspect, given Massachusetts
Department of Education figures that show 34 charter schools have fewer
students than they reported they would have on reports filed with the
state last spring.
An Edmonton Journey Educators from the United States flock to the Edmonton, Alberta, district in Canada to learn about its experience with site-based management,
an idea that is gaining new traction here.
By Jeff Archer, Education Week, 1/26/05
- They just keep coming. Education leaders from Chicago, Colorado, Hawaii,
Los Angeles, Minnesota, Oakland, Calif., and the District of Columbia have all flocked to the Edmonton public schools. Among the visitors have been district
superintendents, state schools chiefs, organization heads, and a governor.
And thats only in the past 12 months. For more than two decades,
U.S. officials have come here to import ideas from what many
regard as the most innovative school system in North America. So many, in fact, that Edmonton officials, in the Canadian
province of Alberta, are giving serious thought to charging fees as
a way to compensate for the time the visits take away from their work.
For the most part, these pilgrims come to learn about site-based management.
Here, schools control 80 percent of the districts total budget.
They pick their own reading programs and their own staff training. They
decide how many people to employ, and in what jobs. If they dont
like services the districts central office is offering, they can
take their money elsewhere.
This really is not the flavor of the month for them,
says Christina Warden, a program director at the Cross City Campaign
for Urban School Reform, located in Chicago, who estimates that shes
made at least 10 trips to Edmonton since the early 1990s.
They really do work very hard, in very practical ways, to make
these things happen.
Adding to the interest of late is a book by William G. Ouchi, a professor
of management at the University of California, Los Angeles.
In Making Schools Work: A Revolutionary Plan to Get Your Children the
Education They Need, he touts the Edmonton model, and retells how its
been copied by the school systems in Houston and Seattle.
Angus McBeath, who became the superintendent of the 81,000-student Canadian
district in 2001, is conflicted about all the attention. Hes flattered
that the system is still seen as a pioneer. But he fears that many visitors
come looking for a silver bullet, when the reality is more complex.
If anything, he says, Edmonton has found that site-based management, by itself, doesnt
There is no pill, or bullet, or quick fix for school systems,
says McBeath. There are some sensible things that districts can
do, and I think site-based has a lot of power. But I think even its
authors would tell you its not a solution to raising achievement
Indeed, in the past four years, the district has taken a different tack.
After long focusing on ways to decentralize its governance, Edmonton has embarked on a decidedly district-led push to raise
student performance. All schools now follow a common approach in managing
instructional improvement. And all building leaders get heavy doses
of professional development.
But rather than abandon site-based decisionmakingas some U.S.
school systems have doneEdmonton has tried to channel the process
more toward the core business of teaching and learning. School leaders
are under orders to analyze data, collaborate with their staffs, and
use research-based instructional techniques. But each site still decides
how that plays out.
The strategy has its challenges. Already shouldering more budget and
operational responsibilities than their peers in other districts, school-level
leaders in Edmonton now must also devote more time to planning for instructional
improvement. But ask them if theyd rather have district officials
make all the calls, and their answer is emphatic.
I think we would have a huge problem if they tried to make decisions
differently, says Karen Beaton, a principal and the president
of Edmonton Public Teachers, a union that includes teachers and administrators.
It is so much a part of our culture and the way we think and act.
With its history as a trading post, gold rush town, and oil city, the
provincial capital of Edmonton has thrived on market forces. Its school district is
no exception: Parents here can pick any school they want for their children.
To market themselves to families, some 80 of the districts 200
schools have created special programs, such as concentrations in the
performing arts, virtual instruction for the home-schooled, and foreign-language
With no government ban here on public support for religious education,
the system includes three Christian schools and a Jewish school, all
of which were founded independently, but later opted to join the district.
Tellingly, the central office is called Central Services. More than
half the people who work there are in departments that live or die based
on the demand by schools for their expertise. If a site needs help on
an instructional or administrative matter, it contracts with the office
to provide the assistance, often charged on an hourly basis.
At the heart of these arrangements is the premise that organizations
run best when decisions are made closest to the customer. Edmonton first put that idea into practice in the 1970s, when
it began to give schools control over their budgets under Superintendent
Michael A. Strembitsky, who has since risen to legendary status and
continues to advise policymakers in the United States.
The customer-driven model resonates with people like Minnesota Gov.
Tim Pawlenty. The first-term Republican, who would like more districts
in Minnesota to adopt site-based management, brought 12 state and
local education officials here last month for a two-day visit. Edmonton, he says, has an entrepreneurial culture
thats rare in public education.
You need to have educators work in systems that encourage them
to be empowered, to be dynamic, and to be innovative, Pawlenty
said in an interview during the tour. And this perhaps does that.
McBeath, a 29-year veteran of the school system and only the third person
to hold its superintendency since 1972, is a true believer in the site-based
approach. He makes an analogy to an apartment complex where the renters
are asked to conserve electricity: If each unit doesnt pay its
own bill, chances are that few will heed the call.
When you give people the money and the authority, they behave
like owners, and boy, do they do that in our system, McBeath says.
And that is really powerful. Our principals really believe the
buck stops with them.
For many years, student performance in the district has tracked close
to the averages for Alberta as a whole. Thats impressive for an urban system.
When the results of the Program for International Student Assessment,
or PISA, were released last month, a breakdown of the 41-nation
comparison showed Alberta neck and neck with the top-performing countries in mathematics,
reading, and science.
Graduation rates tell a different story. Four years ago, when Albertas ministry of education began computing the data
in a new way, Edmonton discovered that only 63 percent of its students finished
their secondary education within five years of starting high school.
In other words, about four out of 10 high school students were failing
to complete their studies as expected.
What we had focused on was: Gee, look what a great job were
doing with the students who are graduating, says Corrie
Ziegler, who heads the division of Central Services that plans improvement
initiatives. We werent paying attention to the students
who had actually dropped out, or did not complete high school. Thats
when we decided we needed to do something different.
To figure out what, Edmonton has relied heavily on Focus on Results, an education
consulting company based in Huntington Beach, Calif. The decision to use money from a new professional-development
fund created by the province to hire the outside group initially prompted
internal grumbling about the Americans.
But the group proved a good fit. What it came up with was a process,
not a program. Each school was required to form a leadership team of
staff members, who led their school in analyzing performance data and
identifying weaknesses. From that, schools picked priorities for improvement,
or instructional focus, as the district calls them.
Many sites chose literacy. But some decided their students had mastered
the basics, and so focused on critical-thinking skillsthe kind
that students use in making their own informed judgments, based on evidence.
In allowing such differences, the district contrasts with systems such
as the Los AngelesUnifiedSchool
which requires all buildings to use the same instructional programs.
We would never presume to say: This is the best practice,
That approach, however, is not to say anything goes. The provincial
government has long mandated a highly specific curriculum, often credited
for Albertas strong standing in international comparisons.
The district has set clear expectations as well, including a new decree
that principals attend monthly training meetings with members of their
staffs on such topics as how to design their own student assessments,
how to plan collaboratively, and how to recognize strategies that work.
Principals are now required to spend 50 percent of their time on instructional
Those demands might seem in conflict with site-based management. But
McBeath says its a mistake to assume that individual schools know
everything they need to about what to do with the authority theyve
All Ive said is: OK, now that we have all this under
way, the moral purpose of schooling is success from all students,
the superintendent explains. So we need to take site-based
to where I think it was originally intended, which is a vehicle to get
us to superb results.
The adjustment hasnt been without struggles. With the monthly
training and other professional development that they receive, principals
are out of their schools more than ever before. Many admit they dont
yet spend half their time on classroom matters. Whats important,
says McBeath, is that theyre trying.
John Edey, who until this month was the principal of Edmontons McKernanSchool, said he never got near meeting that goal. Instead,
he strived to spend time in three classrooms each daybut even
that objective he thinks he missed about four out of every 10 days.
Still, he valued the effort, which helped him link up teachers facing
similar challenges. I think it does have an impact in your school,
says Edey, now an official in Central Services. It has a huge
Located near the University of Alberta, McKernanSchool reflects the past and present of site-based decisionmaking
in Edmonton. Since the 1980s, the school has run a French-immersion
program. From kindergarten through grade 9a grade span found in
many schools herethe 630-student school teaches students every
subject in French.
When asked to adopt an instructional focus four years ago, the high-performing
school zeroed in on the teaching of critical thinking, complex problem-solving,
and organizational skills. The latter is clear in even a glimpse of
its classrooms, where most students keep their notes in the same kind
of spiral notebooks with zippers.
For their training, educators at the school chose a popular trade book.
In regular discussions, theyve worked through the text, which
describes the application and effects of nine distinctly different teaching
The one thing that I am absolutely certain about all of this is,
that when you can get teachers talking to each other about what theyre
doing, student achievement will improve, Edey says.
Many educators here echo that sentiment. One downside of site-based
management, they say, is that it can exacerbate the professional isolation
that already plagues those who work in schools. As a result, theyve
tried to open up new lines of communication within and among buildings.
A key strategy stressed in the new training is the instructional
walk-through, in which teachers and administrators observe others
engaged in teaching. Many U.S. districts use a similar technique. In Edmonton, the practice is strictly a learning tool, not part
of any evaluation. Its now commonplace for educators here to do
walk-throughs in their own schools, and to visit others.
We had teachers who said: I havent been in somebody
elses classroom in 15 years, says Tanni Parker, a
Central Services official who organizes staff training. The sharing
and problem-solving wasnt happening, and so we gave them a license
to be able to open up the classroom door.
In a district that already scores well, the best hope for Edmonton has been to nudge past its previous performance. That
seems to be happening. Since 2000, the district has edged out in front
of Alberta overall in the percentage of 6th and 9th graders scoring
at the acceptable level on provincewide exams. On 3rd grade
exams, Edmonton still is behind, but gaining.
The latest graduation rate reported for Edmonton is 68 percent, up from the 63 percent that sounded the
alarm four years ago. District leaders are especially encouraged by
the improvement last year in the percentage of high school students
completing individual courses, a predictor of future graduation rates.
Michael Fullan, an expert on standards-based school improvement in North America and Europe, thinks Edmonton is right to marry site-based management with a districtwide
focus on instruction. Systems that adopt a purely top-down approach
often see a quick boost in scores, followed by a leveling off, he says.
The reason they plateau is that a centrally driven system, even
with an investment in capacity building, doesnt really get at
ownership deeply enough, says Fullan, a dean emeritus at the Ontario
Institute for Studies in Education at the University of Toronto. Of Edmontons strategy, he says: This is kind of having
your cake and eating it, too.
When American policymakers come here, they usually ask about the nuts
and bolts of site-based management. They want to know how the money
is divided among schools, and how much discretion principals really
have in budget and personnel decisions. McBeath believes a bigger lesson
is about how to stick with an idea while at the same time adapting it.
As he told the group of visitors that came here last month from Minnesota: Weve been in an endless system of reform.
Were not finished yet.
Putting Arts Education
Front and Center Commentary by Rod Paige & Mike Huckabee, Education Week,
(Rod Paige has served for the past four years as the U.S. secretary of education. Mike Huckabee is the governor
of Arkansas and the current chairman of the Education Commission
of the States).
Since the time when humans drew figures on the walls of the caves of
Lascaux, the arts have been our means of recording human experience and making
meaning in the world. They are a sign of a thoughtful, inventive, and
creative citizenry. As the global economy becomes faster and more competitive,
these qualities are increasingly important. As such, the arts are an
integral part of a complete, successful, and high-quality education.
Study of the arts enhances young peoples intellectual, personal,
and social development. The arts provide a rich and engaging curriculum
that develops students abilities to think, reason, and understand
the world and its cultures. A comprehensive arts education encompasses
such areas as the history of the arts, the honing of critical-analysis
skills, the re-creation of classic as well as contemporary works of
art, and the expression of students ideas and feelings through
the creation of their own works. In other words, students should have
opportunities to respond, perform, and create in the arts.
Research has shown that those who study the arts improve their achievement
in other subjects, including mathematics, reading, and writing. In math,
for example, studies point to a direct connection between music and
spatial reasoning and spatial temporal skills, which are important to
understanding and using mathematical concepts. For high school students,
coursetaking data collected by the College Board indicate that students
of the arts annually outperform their nonarts peers on the SAT. In 2004,
for example, students who studied music scored 40 points higher on the
math portion of the test than students reporting no arts coursework.
Similarly, students who studied acting and play production outscored
their nonarts peers on the verbal portion of the SAT by an average of
The effect of arts study on reading is similar. Because reading is the
educational skill upon which all others in our lives are based, the
No Child Left Behind Act focuses on literacy and sets the goal that
all students read by the 3rd grade. We know from research that the arts
can help achieve this goal, and that certain forms of arts instruction
enhance and complement reading instruction. Studies have shown, for
example, that when creative dramatics are a component of reading with
preschool-age children, skills in comprehension and vocabulary increase.
The academic benefits of arts education also go beyond math and reading.
An analysis of U.S. Department of Education data on 25,000 middle and
high school students found that students who were highly involved in
the arts performed better on a variety of academic measures than other
students. They earned better grades, did better on exams, performed
more community service, and watched fewer hours of television. And a
growing amount of evidence shows that the arts can be particularly beneficial
to students from economically disadvantaged backgrounds, and can even
keep some potential dropouts in school.
Most Americans recognize the importance of this early engagement in
the arts. A recent Harris Poll found that 90 percent of respondents
considered the arts vital to a well-rounded education for all students.
The same poll also revealed that nine in 10 parents of school-age children
oppose subjecting arts programs to budget cutbacks.
To put it simply, we need to keep the arts in education because they
instill in students the habits of mind that last a lifetime: critical
analysis skills, the ability to deal with ambiguity and to solve problems,
perseverance and a drive for excellence. Moreover, the creative skills
children develop through the arts carry them toward new ideas, new experiences,
and new challenges, not to mention personal satisfaction. This is the
intrinsic value of the arts, and it cannot be overestimated.
President Bush and both Democrats and Republicans in Congress recognized
that the arts have this intrinsic value, are a necessary component of
preparation for life in our democracy, and have a positive impact on
student achievement and motivation. They understood that dance, drama,
music, and the visual arts provide important skills and are educationally
powerful tools for reaching all learnersthat the arts can engage
a child in ways that defy imagination. Thats why the arts are
considered a core academic subject under the No Child Left Behind law:
They can and should play a central role in fulfilling the laws
goal of improved student achievement, as well as similar goals of states,
districts, schools, and parents. And thats why the Department
of Education included the arts, in addition to math, science, and reading,
in its Research-to-Practice summit, a component of its Teacher-to-Teacher
Initiative, this past summer.
The state of the arts varies from state to state and district to district,
but we are beginning to see recognition of their importance in education
across the country. Using the state of Arkansas as an example, we can
see this in more than a dozen school, community, and governmental efforts
to bring the arts to students.
Every public school elementary student in the state now receives
instruction in music or the visual arts.
The Future Art and Music Teachers pilot program gives 11th and
12th grade students in at least six schools the opportunity to offer
music and visual-arts instruction to K-6 students.
The Arkansas School for Mathematics and Sciences has been expanded
to include the arts, making the state one of only a handful offering
a year-round, rigorous program for students gifted in the arts.
The A+ Schools Program, begun in North Carolina and operating
in Arkansas and Oklahoma as well, incorporates the arts into every subject
in the curriculum of a number of schools.
Other states are at work in this area as well. In Arizona, state Superintendent
Tom Hornes content-rich curriculum initiative is investing
$4 million in comprehensive-school-reform funds under the No Child Left
Behind Act to support arts education improvement efforts at 43 schools
throughout the state. The initiative is based on the success of Tucsons
Opening Minds Through the Arts program, which received federal support
from the Department of Educations Arts in Education Model Development
and Dissemination program. Again this year, the departments office
of innovation and improvement will solicit applications for both the
models program and professional-development projects for K-12 arts educators.
The Education Commission of the States is undertaking a two-year focus
on ensuring access to high-quality arts education in our schools. The
goal of the ECS initiativeThe Arts: A Lifetime of Learningis
to put the arts front and center on the education agenda. Its work plan
is centered on four interrelated areasawareness, research, tools,
and state leadershipthat, together, form the word arts
and provide a set of objectives vital to increasing the arts stature
Raise levels of public awareness and deepen understanding among
state policymakers about the educational, social, and civic benefits
of student involvement in the arts.
Call for and contribute to the development of better state-level
research and data on which to base policy decisions.
Equip state policymakers with the tools to analyze and interpret
state-level information related to the status and condition of arts
education and instruction in schools.
Support state leadership in efforts to develop policies and practices
designed to improve educational outcomes for all students through school-based
integration of the arts.
As a nation, we must develop children who are productive, happy, well-adjusted
citizens, rather than kids who can just pass a test and get through
school. We must ensure that our children can compete in the 21st-century
economy by preparing a workforce and a citizenry that can think creatively,
skillfully, and outside the box. The arts are a vital part
of doing thisand of ensuring that every student can achieve his
or her potential and contribute fully to our society.
We know our nation is up to the challenge, but we must mobilize, inform,
educate, and inspire education and policy leaders to recognize the vast
potential returns that can be realized by investing now in arts education.
Because of their primary responsibility in setting policy and in determining
funding levels for public education, these leaders play a critical role
in helping to make and keep the arts strong in schools.
By working together to bring the arts to every child in America, not
only will we change attitudes about the curriculum, but we also will
change the future of our country.
ED REVIEW A bi-weekly update on U.S. Department of Education activities relevant
to the Intergovernmental and Corporate community and other stakeholders
- 1/28/05 NCLB Update(http://www.ed.gov/nclb/)
According to the College Board's first-ever "Advanced Placement
Report to the Nation," 13.2 percent of the graduating class of
2004 demonstrated mastery (at least a 3 on a 5-point scale) of one or
more Advanced Placement (AP) exams, up from 10.2 percent from the 2000
class.Moreover, over the past five years, all 50 states
and the District
reported an increase in the percentage of students succeeding on AP
exams.For example, New York is the first state in the nation to see more than 20
percent of its students achieve a grade of 3 or higher on an AP exam,
and California, Florida,
Maryland, Massachusetts, and Utah are close to this level of achievement, with between
18 and 20 percent of students earning a 3 or higher.On the other hand, the success of ethnic minorities
is mixed.Since 1996, there have
been significant increases in African-American (+164%), Hispanic (+197%),
and American Indian (+115%) students scoring 3 or higher on AP exams,
and the proportion of Hispanic students taking AP exams (13.1%) is,
today, about the same as the proportion of Hispanic students in public
schools (12.8%).But African-American students remain significantly
underrepresented in AP; African-American students make up 13.2 percent
of the student population but only 6.0 percent of AP test takers.Research shows that students who succeed on
one or more AP exams are more likely than their peers to complete a
bachelor's degree in four years.FOR
MORE INFORMATION, PLEASE GO TO http://www.collegeboard.com/about/news_info/ap/2005/.
(Secretary Spelling's statement
is available at http://www.ed.gov/news/pressreleases/2005/01/01252005.html
President Bush has proposed a 73 percent increase in the Department's
Interested in becoming a supplemental service provider?The American Institutes for Research is offering
a free "Providers' Toolkit for Supplemental Educational Services"
The toolkit includes step-by-step tips, tools, and resources on designing,
delivering, marketing, managing, and evaluating a quality program.Currently, under the No Child Left Behind Act,
over 2,700 Title I schools are required to offer supplemental services.
Hours after President Bush was sworn in last week for his second term,
the Senate unanimously confirmed Margaret Spellings as the eighth U.S.
Secretary of Education.Below
are excerpts from her first message to Department staff.
"As I indicated in my confirmation hearing, there is no more critical
obligation each of us has to the American people than to educate our
citizens.In our diverse country, we share the belief
that education is the great equalizer.It is the key to success for individual Americans and the key
to success of our nation -- not just economic success but civic and
democratic success.In our country,
we believe that a great education must be available to each and every
"Our schools are, right now, preparing the individuals who will
succeed each of us....I have
been involved in our public schools for more than two decades in many
different ways.I am a parent of school-aged children.I have worked in both legislative and executive
branches of government, as well as at the local, state, and federal
levels.We have a lot of work
ahead of us, work that will affect our nation's future in a most fundamental
Attention teachers!The Taxpayer-Teacher
Protection Act, signed into law last year, authorizes up to $17,500
in loan forgiveness for eligible, highly qualified math, science, and
special education teachers.This
dramatic increase -- $12,500 above the previous limit of $5,000 -- is
meant to ease the shortage of teachers in important subject areas.To be eligible, teachers (with no outstanding loan balances before
October 1, 1998, and who have borrowed before October 1, 2005) must
be highly qualified, as defined by the No Child Left Behind Act; must
have taught full-time, for five consecutive years, in a Title I school;
and must have taught secondary math or science or elementary or secondary
special education to students with disabilities.Also, an eligible teacher who has already received loan forgiveness
may receive further loan forgiveness -- "up to the difference between
$17,500 and the amount previously forgiven."FOR MORE INFORMATION, PLEASE GO TO http://www.ifap.ed.gov/dpcletters/GEN0414.html.
This week, the National Governors Association (NGA) released "Building
the Foundation for Bright Futures: Final Report of the NGA Task Force
on School Readiness" (http://www.nga.org/cda/files/0501taskforcereadiness.pdf).Two years of work from the task force and more
than a decade's worth of research has gone into the list of recommendations,
sorted into "Ready States," "Ready Schools," "Ready
Communities," "Ready Families," and "Ready Children."Then, a companion piece, "A Governor's Guide to School Readiness"
(http://www.nga.org/cda/files/0501govguidereadiness.pdf),ties the policy recommendations to concrete
On January 14, at FloridaCommunity
in Jacksonville, President Bush announced he will ask lawmakers to increase
the maximum Pell Grant award by $100 per year for the next five years,
to $4,550.The President also
reiterated his support for enhanced Pell Grants, which would give an
additional $1,000 for the first two years of college to students from
low-income families who complete the rigorous State Scholars program.FOR MORE INFORMATION, PLEASE GO TO http://www.whitehouse.gov/news/releases/2005/01/20050114-5.html.
Note: In a recent national survey commissioned by the Job Shadow Coalition
and sponsored by the Departments of Education and Labor, over 60 percent
of teenagers said they would need higher education to accomplish the
12 percent of teenagers said "some college or postsecondary trade
school" was necessary to succeed; 31 percent said a bachelor's
degree; and 27 percent said a graduate degree or Ph.D.FOR MORE INFORMATION, PLEASE GO TO http://www.jobshadow.org/.