State Education Roundup
Students Recite Declaration and Pledge
Since last fall, Arizona students in grades 4, 5, and 6 have started the day by reciting part of the Declaration of Independence and then the Pledge of Allegiance.
This comes as a result of SB 1216, a bill passed last April by the Arizona legislature that requires students to learn and recite the text of critical founding documents.
The bill also enforces Arizona's social studies standards, which state "the study of America's founding principles . . . as detailed in the United States Constitution, the Declaration of Independence, and in The Federalist Papers, is critical to the preservation and improvement of America's republican form of government."
The legislation was drafted and promoted by the Center for Arizona Policy out of concern that today's students "demonstrate a breathtaking ignorance of our nation's history and purpose." For example, only about 20 percent of students in grades 4, 8, and 12 scored at the "proficient" level on the civics portion of the 1998 National Assessment of Educational Progress tests. Even worse, only 2 percent of fourth-graders, 2 percent of eighth-graders, and 4 percent of twelfth-graders scored at the "advanced" level on the test.
"Our schools should teach freedom," wrote Arizona Republic columnist Ben Boychuck, "and the Declaration's words are a good place to start."
Fuzzy Math Yields Huge Teacher Pay Hike
Plus: Negotiators for the Los Angeles Unified School District recently agreed to a one-year contract giving teachers a 13.5 percent raise.
Minus: The pay raise will cost $100 million more than the district has budgeted to pay.
Plus: Superintendent Roy Romer says $47 million will come from money budgeted for other programs but not spent, and another $5 million from an administrative hiring freeze.
Minus: That still would leave the district $48 million short, with the union free to demand additional pay increases this time next year.
Plus: The district and the union have complained time and again about the number of uncredentialed teachers in Los Angeles.
Minus: The district and the union agreed to give the uncredentialed teachers a 7 percent raise.
Plus: Bilingual education is supposed to be virtually nonexistent in California.
Minus: Los Angeles Unified agreed that bilingual teachers will continue to receive their full pay differential.
Total: United Teachers Los Angeles President Day Higuchi reported that the contract received a "positive reception" from members.
The Education Intelligence Agency Communiqué
January 29, 2001
Many Teacher Salaries Exceed $100,000
The number of teachers earning more than $100,000 a year in Illinois' Palatine-Schaumburg High School District 211 jumped from 20 in the 1998-99 school year to 180 in 1999-2000, according to Northwest Tax Watch President Bill Huley. The average salary in the district was $81,767; the highest-paid teacher received a salary of $140,364.
"Not bad for government work," noted Huley, who also pointed out the salaries were not for a full year but for the nine-plus months of a 185-day school year.
The Tax Watch group publishes an annual survey of teacher and administrator salaries for the school districts in the suburbs northwest of Chicago. The Family Taxpayers Network posts the current and prior year salaries of all teachers and administrators for all Illinois school districts at www.TheChampion.org. In addition, the Chicago Sun-Times posts test scores, enrollment data, and financial information for every public school in Illinois at www.suntimes.com/schools.
Northwest Tax Watch Newsletter, February 2001
Family Taxpayers Network,
The Chicago Sun-Times,
Fingerprint Check Shows 1,324 Convictions
Although a 1995 law required all school workers in Maine to undergo fingerprinting and background checks, parents weren't supposed to know the results of those checks because many educators and school workers persuaded legislators to include strict confidentiality provisions in the law.
But on February 13, just before the state attorney general opined that such information could not be released, Maine State Police Chief Col. Michael Sperry reported to the Criminal Justice Subcommittee that about one in 20 school workers had been convicted of a criminal offense.
Now, State Senator Michael McAlevey (R-Waterloo) is one of several lawmakers pushing for a change in the law to allow the Department of Education to release information on how many school workers have been convicted of what crimes, and how long ago. Deputy Education Commissioner Judith Lucarelli, for example, would not tell the Portland Press Herald how many applicants for working in schools had been turned down because of disqualifying criminal convictions.
"We ought to know whether this fingerprinting is catching a lot of criminals," said Jonathan Piper, an attorney representing the Portland Press Herald and other Maine media companies. He noted that the confidentiality provisions built into the law are unusually restrictive.
Portland Press Herald
February 15, 2001
State Misses Deadline By 200+ Days
The Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE) still has not responded to an appeal by the Imhotep Academy Charter School of the denial of its charter application by Harris-Stowe State College of St. Louis (MO). Although department officials had indicated a response would be forthcoming by the end of last year, none has been received by the charter founders.
After Harris-Stowe denied Imhotep's proposal last May because college officials were too busy, an appeal was filed with DESE, the state chartering authority. Although the state charter school law requires DESE to respond to an appeal within 60 days, the appeal had been under review for 260 days as of February 12.
The Illinois Charter School Facs
February 12, 2001
Now Read This
The St. Louis Post Dispatch headline read "13 Area School Districts Get State Grants to Help Teach Children to Read."
"We thought that's what school districts already were doing," observed Paul Seibert of Charter Consultants, based in Belleville, Illinois.
The Illinois Charter School Facs
February 1, 2001
Innocent Teachers Victimized in Cheating Probe
In December 1999, 52 New York City teachers and administrators were immediately disciplined--including some that were fired--when special investigator Edward Stancik accused them of helping students cheat on tests.
But a year later, a private investigation revealed that many of the teachers named by Stancik were in fact innocent. While some of the wrongly accused teachers have been reinstated, others have no desire to return to the public schools.
Thomas Thatcher, a former inspector-general for the School Construction Authority who conducted the investigation for the United Federation of Teachers, found Stancik's probe gave short shrift to the rights of the accused. For example, many children confused incidents of teachers helping them on practice tests with helping them on the real exam; the names of witnesses testifying against the teachers and principals were not revealed; and the accused were not given an opportunity to respond to the charges before Stancik published their names to the press.
"Cheating is a scandal," noted New York University education professor Diane Ravitch, "but it is also a scandal when responsible public officials fail to protect the rights of people accused of misconduct by powerful government agencies."
New York Daily News
February 6, 2001
Staten Island a Voucher Stronghold
A new Hunter College Big Apple Poll found that 65 percent of New Yorkers agree with the general idea of all families using school vouchers to "send their children to the school of their choice"--public, private, or religious.
But when the question was changed to focus on the benefits accruing to one class of parent--"allowing students and parents to choose a private school at public expense"--only 44 percent of the same 955 respondents agreed.
Not surprisingly, the poorest New Yorkers support the idea of being able to send their children to better schools, with 57 percent of those making less than $25,000 a year favoring vouchers. On the other hand, almost two-thirds (64 percent) of residents making more than $100,000 a year oppose vouchers at "public expense."
"Support for vouchers falls significantly as income rises, no matter how the question is asked," Hunter's polling director, William Williams, told The New York Post.
That's not the case on Staten Island, though, where a large proportion of families send their children to Catholic schools. Seventy percent of Island residents favor vouchers, with support cutting across income levels.
The New York Post
February 15, 2001
Merit Pay Backlash in Cincinnati
Cincinnati's revolutionary new pay-for-performance program may soon be dismantled even though it's only four months into the evaluation period.
The Cincinnati Enquirer reported in January that some teachers are upset by the amount of paperwork involved in maintaining their portfolios, and even more are disturbed that evaluations are carried out with "no notice." The district already has agreed to cut the number of unannounced observations in half.
The Cincinnati Federation of Teachers (CFT), which helped develop the program, must take another vote before individual teacher pay is tied to the evaluation system. Although undoing the program requires a 70 percent "no" vote, one union activist is making that result her mission. Sue Taylor is running for the presidency of CFT on an anti-performance pay platform. The CFT presidential election will be held this May.
"If it's not right, we may be leading the charge to shut it down," CFT spokeswoman Denise Hewitt told the Des Moines Register, indicating the current administration is not enthused about the program.
The Education Intelligence Agency Communiqué
January 29, 2001
Fingerprint ID Required to Buy School Lunch
Administrators at 35 Pennsylvania public schools are using a new biometric identification technology to speed grade-school children through lunch lines by matching a child's fingerprint to a stored database copy and then deducting the cost of the lunch from the family's account. The cash-free transaction also eliminates the violence caused by some children trying to steal other students' lunch money.
But Libertarian Party officials are outraged at this use of law enforcement-style technology to monitor children in public schools, which they see as desensitizing children to the demands of government and other authority figures.
"Adults are reluctant to allow the government to build databases of biometric identifiers because we know how politicians can abuse such information and because we understand the constitutional prohibitions against such privacy-invading programs," Libertarian Party national director Steve Dasbach told WorldNetDaily.
Party officials raised concerns over the possible misuse of such collected biometric information, particularly as school administrators are considering expanding the program to such uses as checking out library books, school attendance checks, and requiring a print scan to ride the school bus.
"Fingerprinting isn't just for criminals any more," said Dasbach.
February 11, 2001
Teachers May Have to Pass Competency Test
If you fail the drivers' test, you don't get a drivers' license. But if you fail the teacher competency test in Rhode Island, you still get to teach. You just have to put up with annual job evaluations for the next three years.
That doesn't make sense to Governor Lincoln Almond, particularly now that the state is expecting more from its students. Almond wants prospective teachers to pass the certification test before they can teach in the state's public schools.
"Can you imagine if we did that for lawyers?" asked Almond spokesperson Lisa A. Pelosi, according to a Providence Journal report. "If we said, 'Here's the bar exam, but if you don't pass it, you can still be a lawyer?'"
Citing the need for accountability, State Senator Hanna M. Gallo (D-Cranston) in February introduced a teacher-testing bill favored by the governor. "We need teacher certification that is worth something," said Gallo.
February 9, 2001
House Passes Paycheck Protection
During the past two years, the Sutherland Institute and other groups have spoken out for "paycheck protection" and halting the practice of forcing Utah taxpayers to collect political contributions for public employee labor unions. Despite heated opposition from the Utah Public Employees Association (UPEA), the Utah Education Association (UEA), and other political special interest groups, the Utah House of Representatives agreed with the Institute's position and voted 42 to 33 on January 30 to pass House Bill HB 179, the "Voluntary Contributions Act."
Passage in the Senate appears likely and Governor Michael Leavitt has indicated he would allow the bill to become law. If enacted and enforced, payroll protection would prevent public employee labor unions from using the taxpayer-funded payroll system to collect funds for political action committees (PACs). Government union PACs representing the UPEA and UEA then would have to collect political donations the same way all other PACs in Utah do: by soliciting personal checks from their members.
UEA spokespersons already have said it's likely one or more lawsuits will be filed if HB 179 becomes law.
The Sutherland Update
February 2, 2001
Letter Grades: Going, Going . . .
Letter grades already are history in Seattle's elementary schools, which now use a number grade of 1, 2, 3, or 4 to indicate whether a student is not meeting, meeting, or exceeding the grade-level standard. Now the School Board is discussing the possibility of getting rid of A, B, C, and D in the city's high schools by 2002 and replacing them with ratings of not proficient, proficient, honors, and high honors.
"Grades are designed to select and sort. People like that," Board President Don Nielsen told The Seattle Times. "But if we're serious about educating every child, select and sort becomes much less of an issue."
The ratings would be based on standards that also would eliminate the need to assign students to freshmen, sophomore, junior, and senior classes. Depending on how fast they learn, students could graduate in three, four, or five years.
Currently, students can graduate only if they earn a C average. Based on grade-point averages at the end of their junior year, 27 percent of this year's seniors may not qualify to receive a high school diploma.
February 15, 2001
Follow the Money
When a coalition of teachers, administrators, and school districts came to the Wyoming legislature with a $73 million request to give education workers a 14.4 percent salary increase, Equality State lawmakers voted for the new funds in a House bill and a Senate bill that now are being reconciled in conference committee. But superintendents contacted by the Wyoming Tribune-Eagle told the newspaper in early February that some of the money might go to pay for utility bills or to buy equipment and school supplies. Many lawmakers were not happy to hear that.
"We voted for salary increases for workers and teachers and now their guys are saying we're going to spend it on something else," said State Representative Pete Illoway (D-Cheyenne). "I feel like I've been had and I'm not very pleased about it," he added.
As well as getting commitments from all of the state's 46 school districts to spend the money on pay, State Representative Jeff Wasserburger (R-Gillette) wrote his House Bill 15 to require districts to verify that they spend the new funds on salaries.
"Everybody's very angry," he said.
February 13, 2001