05/2000 State Education Roundup

Published May 1, 2000

California * District of Columbia * Illinois * Kentucky * Louisiana * Massachusetts
Nevada * New Hampshire * New Jersey * Ohio * Oklahoma * Texas * Washington


School Bond Initiative Fails

California voters turned out on Super Tuesday in March to narrowly defeat Proposition 26, a measure that would have changed a 120-year-old provision for issuing school construction bonds from a 2/3 voter approval to only a simple majority.

The defeat of the initiative came despite the unprecedented backing of Big Labor and Big Business, led by the California Teachers Association and the California Business Roundtable. Charter advocate Reed Hastings cosponsored the measure and voucher supporter John Walton gave it $1 million.

The campaign spent $23 million, had full Democratic Party backing and, according to one press report, bought the de facto neutrality of the California Republican Party with a $50,000 contribution, which was later returned.

“If they can’t pass Proposition 26 with all the stars in alignment, then I don’t think they can,” said Jon Coupal, president of the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association. He noted, “education is polling very high among voters’ priority, they spent $25 million, economic times are good, and the state has a $7 billion surplus.”
Education Intelligence Agency Communiqué
March 13, 2000


Choice Ignored by Parental Involvement Group

When the National Coalition for Parent Involvement in Education met in Washington DC recently to review family involvement programs and assess ways the coalition might work together in the future, the issue of parental choice in education was raised by an opening speaker but did not subsequently come up for discussion.

At the end of the one-day conference on February 23, attendees and participants identified the challenges facing implementation of parent involvement, including needing more money to support various programs. But no one responded to the challenge thrown down by Don Davies, founder of the Institute for Responsive Education.

“I assume that everyone here is against vouchers,” said Davies. “But choice is one point of parent power,” he continued. “I think that’s legitimate, and we need to provide opportunities within the public schools.” He listed charter schools, magnet schools, and alternative schools as legitimate choices that should be provided. “I don’t think we can be against choice,” concluded Davies, who asked “How will you deal with this issue?”

The coalition consists of more than 50 organizations, including the National Education Association and the National PTA.
EPI Update
Education Policy Institute
February 25, 2000


Homeschoolers Banned

The Illinois High School Athletic Association has voted to ban homeschoolers from participation in extracurricular activities under IHSA sanction. Since Illinois law allows homeschoolers to participate via dual enrollment standards, the IHSA’s move could be reversed by legislative action.

Homeschoolers are a powerful lobbying group in Illinois, as they are in most other states. The annual homeschool lobby day takes place in the spring.

The IHSA continues to come under increasing disdain for its “unauthorized” role in shaping school curriculum and policy, as do its sister organizations in other states.
Illinois Charter School Facs
January 25, 2000


Low Income No Bar to High Achievement

Although most of the top 20 elementary, middle, and high schools in Kentucky are in districts where residents are fairly wealthy, a significant number of the schools on that list have large concentrations of students from poor families.

Six of the top 20 schools on statewide tests for reading and social studies have more than half of their students on free and reduced lunch, the federal government’s definition of poverty. In science, the figure is 10 out of 20, and in writing the figure is 11 out of 20. Poverty is no bar to high achievement, and poor children can learn if they are challenged with high expectations, say principals and teachers at these schools.

“We feel like we know what we were supposed to work on, we felt like we knew what we were supposed to teach, and we’ve never considered ourselves an at-risk school,” Roundstone Elementary principal David Pensol told Lexington Herald-Leader reporter Linda B. Blackford. He said poverty is never mentioned among teachers, who concentrate on giving students individual help to meet state standards.

“From a national perspective, it’s more proof that when poor students are held to high standards, they meet them,” commented Patty Barth, a senior associate with the Education Trust, a think tank based in Washington DC.
Lexington Herald-Leader
March 22, 2000


No Private Food Service for Schools

There’s a law against private contractors operating school cafeterias in Louisiana, and that law’s not going to change any time soon, even though that’s what local school boards, school superintendents, and Governor Murphy Foster’s School Finance Commission would like.

A bill that would have allowed school boards to hire private companies to feed public school students was rejected 30-7 in the state Senate on March 22, to the cheers of school lunchroom workers afraid they might lose their jobs.

State Senator Jerry Thomas (R-Bogalusa) raised concerns that the measure would be bad for children’s health, claiming that private companies are more concerned with serving the bottom line than serving nutritious meals to children. He also argued that out-of-state food service companies would take business away from local firms.

In response, the bill’s lead proponent, State Senator Jay Dardenne (R-Baton Rouge), offered an amendment that would give preference to Louisiana businesses and make provisions for food service workers laid off as a result of privatization. But even that was defeated 22-14.

“I am not in any way recommending privatization,” protested Dardenne, who also said, “but school boards should have it on their menu.”
Baton Rouge Advocate
March 23, 2000


Teacher Protests Union Fees to Support Abortion

Should a union member who opposes abortion be forced to pay union fees that are used for pro-abortion political activity? A Massachusetts schoolteacher thinks not, and is preparing to go before the state’s Commission Against Discrimination to argue his case.

Gerard O’Brien, a teacher, filed a religious discrimination complaint in 1995 after being suspended for five days for refusing to pay fees to the Springfield Education Association. O’Brien argues that paying fees to the union would violate his personal convictions and his Catholic faith because the union uses the fees to help fund its pro-abortion political activity. O’Brien has placed the money for the fees, about $400 per year, in an escrow account. The case is expected to be reviewed by the full commission at a date to be determined.

While the Springfield Education Association claims it takes no stand on abortion, it acknowledges that it gives money, received from union dues, to the Massachusetts Teachers Association and the National Education Association, both of which support pro-abortion political activity.
Ed Facts
Family Research Council
March 10, 2000


Public Schools Dump Problem Students

Contrary to the claims of advocates, public schools don’t accept all students regardless of academic skills, behavior, and disabilities–at least, not in Nevada.

There, some public schools expel problem children–even those who simply skip too many classes–and dump them on the street, where they often end up in trouble with the law. Worse still, even when the juvenile justice system has turned a problem child around, the public schools won’t always take him or her back.

“We’re removing more students from mainstream classrooms without a place for them to go,” Michael Fitzgerald of the state Education Department told a legislative study panel in February, agreeing that school districts often “bump out” troublesome students. But the education funds for that problem student stay with the school district instead of following the student. That becomes a problem for the judicial system.

“If the school district does not want to develop programs for this population of students, we can handle it–if the dollars that follow that student come to the judicial system,” said Clark County Family Court Judge Bob Gaston.

It’s not that simple, objected Assemblyman Bernie Anderson (D-Sparks), noting that school districts have committed those dollars to teacher contracts and other resources. Anderson is a high school teacher.
Las Vegas Review-Journal
February 26, 2000


Focus on Literacy in K-3

At a recent conference on “Reading, Writing, and Revenues Post Claremont,” Mascoma School District Superintendent Susan D. Hollins argued that K-3 literacy is the most important area to work on for improving schools. Given the limited amount of instructional time available for kindergarten students, she believes that the emphasis should be on prerequisite reading skills.

Hollins argued that the overuse of special education is most likely related to lack of proficiency in reading and mathematics prior to fourth grade. The state’s wide-ranging curriculum requirements at the K-3 level might actually detract from the time required to focus on and assure basic literacy, she said.
The Josiah Bartlett Center for Public Policy
January 2000


Charter Schools Draw Catholic Students

Although both school vouchers and charter schools bring competition to public schools, vouchers allow all schools–public and independent–to participate in the competition for education funds. Charter schools, by contrast, allow only public schools to compete for those funds. Thus, charter schools leave independent schools at a continued disadvantage compared to the public schools, since independents must charge parents additional fees to enroll their children.

Some Catholic educators in New Jersey believe that the legislature’s approval of charter schools rather than vouchers has not helped and may actually have harmed parochial schools in Trenton, where two of the diocese’s seven schools will be closed at the end of the current school year. The diocese has closed four other schools since 1993.

The city schools expect to lose some 40 students a year as parishioners move to the suburbs, but the inflow of new students that would normally replace them apparently has been diverted to the city’s new charter schools. For example, Our Lady’s Cathedral Academy lost one-third of its enrollment over the past three years.

“Charter schools are fine, but we have these [Catholic] schools already in place which have a long tradition of educating some of the finest leaders in the country,” Trenton Archdiocese Education Superintendent Larry Thompson told The Times. “It would have been better to have the option of a voucher program and let families choose between public, parochial, and private schools.”
The Times of Trenton
February 14, 2000


Official Takes Choice Message Abroad

Charles A. Byrne, an elected member of the State Board of Education of Ohio, will represent the United States as a speaker at the First International Conference on “Parents in Education Around the World” in Glasgow, Scotland, from May 16-20. The event, hosted by the Scottish School Board Association, will highlight the best practices from around the world of parental involvement in education.

Byrne’s presentation, on “Choice and Civil Rights,” will focus on three Ohio programs: Ohio Families and Children First, Family and School Partnership Initiatives, and the Parent Advisory Council. He also will describe the range of school choice programs currently being offered in the United States, with particular emphasis on the voucher programs in Cleveland and Milwaukee.
Sun Press
March 2000


Non-Teaching Staff Eliminated?

A March 2 press release from the Oklahoma Senate communications office opened as follows: “When it comes to putting teachers in the classroom, Oklahoma is doing a better job than almost every other state in the country, according to national statistics highlighted in a new Senate report.”

Although Oklahoma had been in the bottom five in placing education employees in the classroom throughout the 1990s, the Senate report showed the state suddenly rising to the number three slot in a single year. However, education statistics guru Mike Antonucci points out that the favorable teacher/non-teacher ratio is a result of not accounting for some 14,000 non-teachers.

Antonucci reports that the number of public education employees has risen steadily in Oklahoma, as it has in virtually every other state. In the last five years, the total has risen from about 75,000 full-time equivalent employees to about 83,500 in 1996. But the 1997 figures cited by the Oklahoma Senate report show only 69,294 FTE employees. This leaves some 17 percent of the state’s public education workforce unaccounted for.
Education Intelligence Agency Communiqué
March 6, 2000


Read by First Grade

When Thaddeus Lott was principal at Wesley Elementary School in the Houston Independent School District, he moved first-grade reading instruction into kindergarten and brought the high-poverty school’s first-grade reading scores on par with scores achieved in more affluent areas.

Lott, now a charter manager over four HISD schools, has seen Wesley’s reading program replicated in 16 other schools. A University of Houston study of these schools has shown that, by the end of first grade, children could read well above national averages if they stayed in the structured reading program during kindergarten and first grade.

Now, HISD superintendent Rod Paige is ready to push for the whole district to adopt reading instruction in pre-kindergarten through first grade, even though current philosophy stresses socialization skills at those ages and downplays teacher-directed instruction. Barbara Foorman, director of the Center for Academic Reading Skills at the University of Texas Health Science Center, said early reading instruction is important because children who read poorly in first grade are likely still to be poor readers in fourth grade.

“The more you wait, the more you increase the gap between the affluent and the inner city,” she told The Houston Chronicle.

HISD’s chief of staff Susan Sclafani agrees. “There are a lot of families in which kids went to school reading,” she said. “But for all those children who are the most likely to have reading difficulties, we can short-circuit those difficulties by providing more instruction for them early on.”
The Houston Chronicle
February 13, 2000


Shop Class Incorporates High-Tech

Traditional industrial-arts “shop” classes–wood-working, metal-working, and auto shop–have been cut back at many high schools over the last 20 years, partly because of the lack of certified instructors and partly because of the cost of space and equipment maintenance. In many schools, shop has been replaced by computer classes.

But at Washington State’s Mountlake Terrace High School, shop chief Skip Carlson and a team of five instructors have created an award-winning technology education department by successfully marrying the noisy drilling and sawing of traditional shop with the quieter clicks and beeps of contemporary technology.

“Employers are crying out for people who have a bit of technological aptitude,” Carlson told The Seattle Times. “We’re trying to help students find their gift or an interest that may lead to a good-paying job and a decent life in America.”

Shop isn’t shunned at Mountlake Terrace, with over one-third of the school’s 1,820 students taking the technology program. Courses range from industrial drafting to robotics concepts, aerospace technology, plastics manufacturing, and engine building. The students get hands-on experience building wood or metal projects, but many teachers also require written reports on why a particular design was chosen–and whether it worked. That’s because problem-solving–the foundation of manufacturing and design–is part and parcel of every lesson.

“Yeah, you learn how to define the problem, brainstorm solutions, do it, and evaluate,” freshman Anna Ensley told The Seattle Times.
The Seattle Times
February 14, 2000