01/2000 School Choice Roundup

Published January 1, 2000

Arkansas * Alabama * Connecticut * Illinois * Indiana * Kansas
Massachusetts * Michigan * New Hampshire * Pennsylvania * Texas


A Town Divided–by Teacher Salaries

When the Texas Legislature approved a $3,000-per-year pay increase for the state’s teachers, librarians, counselors, and nurses earlier this year, the action didn’t go unnoticed in Texarkana, which sits on the Arkansas-Texas border. The move further widened the gap in salaries paid to teachers in the two states. For example, the minimum pay for an entry-level teacher is $24,240 in Texas, compared to only $21,860 in Arkansas–in 2001. A Texas teacher with 10 years of experience makes a minimum of $33,730, compared to only $26,300 in Arkansas.

This widening pay disparity has persuaded many teachers on the Arkansas side of Texarkana to apply for jobs on the Texas side. Recruiting has been much easier this year, according to Autumn Thomas, director of human resources for the Texarkana, Texas, school district.

“We got a lot of Arkansas-side teachers,” Thomas told Texarkana Gazette reporter Les Tracey. “And we got a lot more applicants with experience, which we really liked.”
Arkansas Democrat-Gazette
October 28, 1999


Voters Nix Lottery to Fund Schools

Last year, Democrat Don Siegelman persuaded voters to elect him Governor of Alabama largely on the promise of instituting a state lottery to provide at least $150 million a year for public education. Polls showed 61 percent of voters favoring the lottery measure a month before an October 12 statewide ballot on the issue. Lottery advocates were outspending opponents by a three-to-one margin.

But when voters went to the polls, they soundly rejected the gambling proposal.

The Democrat Party’s strategy of portraying the lottery “as a tax-free way to improve education” fell apart when a coalition of interracial ministers, conservatives, and advocates for the poor mobilized against gambling interests. Coalition members pointed out that the proposed lottery commission would be exempt from state ethics laws, and that poor people would be providing most of the lottery’s income.

Education shouldn’t be financed by “soaking the poor,” said African-American legislators Yvonne Kennedy and Laura Hall. Voters agreed by a 54-46 margin.
Wall Street Journal
October 18, 1999


State Hailed for Broad Reading Gains

Connecticut is the only state in the nation to show reading score gains that extend to students across all major racial and socioeconomic groups, according to researchers from the National Education Goals Panel.

In reading tests conducted earlier this year by the National Assessment of Educational Progress, the state’s 9-year-olds achieved top scores overall, and also top scores among students from wealthy and poor districts and among whites, Hispanics, and African-Americans.

“We know how to teach reading effectively,” researcher Joan Boykoff Baron told the Hartford Courant. “Now the challenge is making sure the teachers have that basis of knowledge.”

After examining ten top schools that made substantial progress in reading on the state’s Mastery Tests, the national panel identified a number of approaches to reading that are working. These approaches include:

  • teachers who emphasize the sounds used in words, or phonics;
  • teaching based on the instructional needs of the student;
  • early identification of reading problems and intensive intervention by the end of first grade.
  • reinforcement of reading with daily writing assignments;
  • continuous monitoring of student achievement; and
  • policies that link teacher evaluation to student achievement.

Hartford Courant
October 27, 1999


More Superintendents Earn $150,000+

Although Chicago Schools CEO Paul Vallas runs the largest school district in the state, his $160,000 salary puts him in 22nd place among the state’s top-paid superintendents.

According to figures released by the Illinois State Board of Education in August, 41 superintendents earned $150,000 or more in the 1998-1999 school year, more than double the 20 that made $150,000 or more in 1997-1998. Two superintendents earned more than $200,000 a year, enough to put them among the top-paid superintendents in the nation.

Experts credit the increase in salaries to a shortage of candidates who want to take on a job that is becoming increasingly complex and stressful.

“Over the past decade the superintendency has lost a lot of its luster,” Jay Goldman, editor of The School Administrator, told the Chicago Sun-Times.
Chicago Sun-Times
August 31, 1999


Chamber Lists “Best Buys” in Schools

The Indiana Chamber of Commerce has identified 158 high schools in the state as “Best Buys” because they produce high levels of academic achievement for the fewest taxpayer dollars. The Chamber surveyed 346 schools and also produced a separate Honor Roll of 38 schools that delivered good academic results despite the presence of high at-risk factors, such as large proportions of children living in poverty or in single-parent homes.

Academic achievement was measured in terms of a “quality quotient,” a composite score based on each individual school’s SAT scores, the percentage of students taking the SAT, graduation rates, attendance rates, and scores from the Indiana Statewide Testing for Educational Progress-Plus.

While praising the Chamber for its positive campaign, Roger Thornton, executive director of the Indiana Association of Public School Superintendents, said the report should have taken into account the number of special education students in each district as well as the quality of school vocational programs. Indianapolis Public Schools Superintendent Pat Pritchett suggested factoring in the number of times that children change schools and the high cost of educating non-English- speaking students.
The Indianapolis Star
October 19, 1999


Call to Lower Mandatory Attendance Age to 16

Kansas legislators raised the mandatory school attendance age from 16 to 18 a few years ago. Now, a task force appointed by Attorney General Carla Stovall is recommending lowering the mandatory attendance age back to 16. That would allow authorities to hold students who bring weapons to school for 72 hours, which in turn could help reduce the likelihood of school violence.

“Sixteen-, 17- and 18-year-olds who don’t want to be in school can cause a lot of trouble,” said Stovall.
Topeka Capital Journal
October 20, 1999


Tennessee Value-Added Program Examined

To measure the academic gains that teachers achieve with their students each year, Boston Schools Superintendent Thomas Payzant has asked the Massachusetts Department of Education to conduct a value-added analysis of the test scores that the state is compiling on each student and school district. The value-added system, developed by William Sanders at the University of Tennessee at Knoxville and used for evaluating schools and teachers in Tennessee, measures how much student learning takes place each year.

The value-added approach allows schools in relatively wealthy areas–where students generally start the year with relatively high test scores–to be held just as accountable for how much learning they impart to their students as schools in high-poverty areas, where students generally start the year with relatively low test scores.

“If 80 is a good test score and you have a teacher with kids who started at 40 but worked like hell to get them to 75, that’s good,” Worcester School Superintendent Jim Caradonio told Boston Globe reporter Beth Daley.

Ronald Harris, principal at Nashville’s Joelton Middle School, said that teachers at high-scoring schools might think of themselves as good teachers, but asked: How would they know? “It’s like saying, ‘I’m a great coach if I have Michael Jordan on my team,'” he said.
Boston Globe
October 30, 1999

$20,000 Signing Bonuses for New Teachers

Although Massachusetts is offering $20,000 signing bonuses to attract the best candidates into the state’s teaching ranks, that offer doesn’t apply to existing teachers or to applicants with degrees in education.

Instead, the state is looking for two new kinds of teachers: midcareer professionals who want to become teachers and have qualifications and work experience in mathematics, science, and foreign languages; and undergraduates with majors in mathematics, the hard sciences, or a foreign language.

“We’ve got to reach midcareer folks, experienced engineers, computer scientists, who could become terrific math and science teachers,” Massachusetts deputy commissioner of education Alan Safran told the Philadelphia Inquirer during a recent recruiting trip to Philadelphia. Colleges of education “are not meeting the need in our shortage areas of math, science, and a foreign language,” he said.

Massachusetts’ 66 colleges and universities with teaching programs produce about 10,000 graduates with education degrees each year, far more than the 5,000 teaching jobs the state must fill each year. But few of the education graduates are trained in mathematics or science, and less than three out of five passed both a literacy test and a test in the subject they were trained to teach. As many as half of the nation’s mathematics and science teachers have neither a major nor a minor in the subject they are teaching.

Last year, Massachusetts awarded 59 bonuses from a field of 800 applicants. Sixty percent were highly qualified college seniors who wanted to teach but did not major in education. The remaining 40 percent were over age 30 and came from careers such as cancer research, journalism, engineering, and law.
Philadelphia Inquirer
October 28, 1999


Teacher Union Negligent in Murder Case

The Michigan Court of Appeals ruled that the Michigan Education Association was negligent in failing to warn Chelsea Schools Superintendent Joseph Piasecki that a teacher undergoing a grievance hearing was armed and planning violence.

On December 16, 1993, high school teacher Stephen Leith was disciplined for behavioral problems. According to the Detroit News, after the hearing Leith went to his car, got a 9mm pistol, and returned to Piasecki’s office, where he fatally shot the superintendent and wounded two others.

Mrs. Leith phoned MEA UniServ Director Mark Jenkins before the murder and told him of her husband’s plans. But Jenkins failed to tell Piasecki that Leith was armed. Piasecki’s widow sued MEA for negligence and is seeking more than $25,000. Leith is serving a life sentence. Jenkins still works as a UniServ director for MEA.
The Education Intelligence Agency Communiqué
October 20, 1999

Inkster District Declares Financial Emergency

As additional school choice options have become available in Michigan, hundreds of parents have taken the opportunity to pull their children out of the Inkster Public Schools and place them in other public schools, including public charter schools. Facing a $1.8 million deficit and the loss of another 262 students since last year, the Inkster school board unanimously voted to declare a state of financial emergency on Thursday, October 28.

This year’s enrolment is a 35-year low of only 1,490 students, down 70 percent from the high of almost 5,000 in the mid-1960s. Although the number of students in the district dropped by only 40 percent, more than half of the eligible public school students shun Inkster’s public schools and attend other schools, driven by parental concerns about the district’s low test scores, financial mismanagement, and school board politics.

As a result of the board’s declaration, the district could be placed in temporary receivership and the current elected board dissolved. Within 30 days, Governor John Engler would then appoint a review team to determine the district’s future. It is possible the district could be the first school district in the state to fall victim “to the school choice revolution rocking public education,” according to Free Press reporter Sheryl James.
Detroit Free Press
October 29, 1999


Supreme Court Again Roils Schools

The New Hampshire Supreme Court rejected a statewide property tax plan that was passed by the state legislature in June, ruling that the plan’s phase-in provision unfairly gave tax breaks to citizens in property-rich communities, i.e., those who paid the highest taxes. The legislature had struggled to come up with the plan after the state supreme court ruled two years ago that the old system–which relied heavily on local property taxes–was unconstitutional.

In October, the state senate approved a measure to impose the state’s first-ever income tax, but the house handily defeated the proposal on October 28 by a 206-164 vote. That left the state short a half-billion dollars to pay for public education. It also left local communities with no way to raise money for their local schools, since the local school property tax has been eliminated. If the state doesn’t get new funds to schools by mid-December, school districts will begin to shut down.

On November 3, the state legislature re-enacted the statewide property tax. Within hours, the State Department of Revenue Administration was issuing tax rates to municipalities so they could send out tax bills as quickly as possible.
New Hampshire Union-Leader
November 5, 1999

Boston Globe
October 29, 1999

Foster’s Daily
October 27, 1999


Query Prompts Cancellation of DC Junket

Is your trip really necessary?

That, in essence, was the question that Commonwealth Foundation President Sean Duffy posed to Pennsylvania House Education Committee Chair Jess Stairs on October 20, when Duffy discovered the Committee had planned a multi-day excursion to Washington, DC to meet with staff from the American Association of School Administrators and from the nation’s largest teacher union, the National Education Association. No meetings were planned with groups in the nation’s capital that promote education reform, although attendance at a Kennedy Center performance of “Soul Possessed” was scheduled.

“In contrast with other out-of-state trips where a site visit is required to understand a successful and innovative program, this excursion appears to be aimed more at hearing what you want to hear,” Duffy wrote in a letter to Stairs, warning that his organization would be requesting the cost of the trip to taxpayers. The committee excursion was simply gathering information “that is available today on the Internet,” said Duffy.

The very next day, Stair canceled the trip, saying he did not want to subject committee members or their hosts in the District of Columbia to “unnecessary media scrutiny.”
The Commonwealth Foundation
News Release – October 19, 1999
News Release – October 25, 1999


Experienced Teachers Shun Poor, Minority Students

A new report ordered by the Austin school board confirms what community members and educators have known for a long time: Students who have the greatest needs are frequently taught by the least-experienced and least-qualified teachers.

For example, Austin schools with many minority students or students predominantly from low-income families are twice as likely to have entry-level teachers than other schools. These low-income schools also are more likely to have instructors who lack credentials and are teaching with emergency licenses. In addition, teachers with no classroom experience are more likely to be found in schools rated “low-performing” by the state–schools where students need the most help.

Part of the reason for the lack of teacher experience in low-income and minority schools is the state and national teacher shortage, which puts teachers with experience in demand. Since teacher pay is based on experience and not the challenge of the teaching job, most experienced teachers choose schools where it’s easier to teach. However, the Austin District will pay an additional $1,000 stipend to teachers who work in low-income schools, starting next year.

“We need to create incentives for people to teach in these schools,” said Austin District Superintendent Pat Forgione.
Austin-American Statesman
October 27, 1999